Get Things Done – Get a Verbal Commitment

Getting your kids to clean their room can be a chore. Getting your spouse to complete a household task can be hard work. Getting employees to complete assignments on time can be time consuming. In general, getting people to do things for you can be frustrating. If you want to get things done, get a verbal commitment. A verbal commitment is a public declaration to act. People who make verbal commitments feel obligated to follow through on their commitments or risk cognitive dissonance or social rejection.

A verbal commitment can be easily obtained by asking commitment questions such as: “Can I count on you?”; “Promise?”; or “Do I have your word on that?” and then wait for an affirmation. People have a hard time not giving their commitment after having agreed to do something. Implied commitments can be obtained in more sensitive social and professional situations, but they are less effective because implied commitments do not demand public verbalizations. Implied commitments include statements such as: “I know I can count on you”; “Your word is all I need”; or “I like you because you always do what you say you’re going to do.” In some instances, a simple “Thank you” for a task not yet completed can induce an implied commitment. To further increase the probability that people will follow through with their commitments, shake their hand. Physical contact cement verbal commitments.

Word qualifiers such as “We’ll see”; “I’ll try”; or “I’ll do my best” signal equivocation and serve as escape hatchs for noncompliance. A person who does not complete a task on time can always say “I did my best to finish the job on time, but I couldn’t do it” without the fear of social rejection or cognitive dissonance because they did not make a firm, verbal commitment.

I needed my medical records by the end of day for an appointment the following day to obtain a second opinion from a specialist. The clerk told me that she would try to have them ready by 5 o’clock. I responded, “Can I have your word that the records will be ready by 5 o’clock?” She made a firm verbal commitment to have the records ready by 5 o'clock instead of equivacating. A few minutes to 5 o’clock my beeper went off twice, once from my wife and once from my office. I called my wife and she told me that she got a call from my doctor’s office. The clerk told her that my medical records were ready and to make sure that I knew they were ready before 5 o’clock. I called my office and got the same message. Without a verbal commitment my records may or may not have been ready, but based on the clerk’s multiple telephone calls and her concern about having them ready before 5 o'clock, indicatedher  personal commitment to me significantly increased the probability that the records would be ready by 5 o’clock.

When I asked my kids to clean their rooms, I got verbal commitments. When I ask colleagues for favors, I get verbal commitments. When I ask providers of goods or services, I get verbal commitments. If you want to get things done, get a verbal commitment. A verbal commitment in nonlegal matters is as good as having it in writing.

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