Do you ever feel you’re not very successful at handling it when people break their word with you? Do you cringe at the thought of holding your employees, or partner, your children or even your spouse accountable? Accountability is not something we were ever taught and for most of us we feel like we just can’t get a handle on how to do it effectively.
First, let’s look at what happens when others break their word. Often times we get very upset. But we really aren’t upset about what we think we’re upset about. What we really get upset about is what we make it mean. We often make the assumption that their actions meant something about us. We take it personally.
For example, my husband is late for dinner and I interpret that to mean he doesn’t care about us. Or my boss didn’t acknowledge the great job I did on a project and I interpret that to mean he doesn’t appreciate me. It’s never what happened that has us upset, it’s what we make it mean. The same is true with people breaking their word to us. We assume they don’t appreciate us, don’t care, or we’re not important to them. This misinterpretation causes us to behave in inappropriate ways when it comes to holding others accountable. We lash out at them, or get angry, or punish them. We ignore it, avoid it or make it OK. Or we blame, cry or nag and want them to see how much we are hurt. All of these responses are normal but just aren’t very productive in terms of handling the situation. And they certainly don’t have us feeling very good about ourselves.
So in looking at how to handle these breakdowns effectively, the first thing to realize is that our upset is not about that person, it’s about what their actions mean to us. Once we realize this, then we can approach that person in a more caring way. And we have to willing to address the person when they break their word. If we don’t address it, such as making light of it, or ignoring it, it really sends out a message to them that they can keep doing it. And we make ourselves into a doormat. Effective accountability sends out a message that the other person is important, and that you are important.
What’s the first thing to do when someone breaks their word? Find out what happened. Ask them what had them break their word. What was going on for them? Did they realize they broke their word? And then let them know the impact that it had on you that they didn’t follow through on time. How do you feel about it? It’s important to let them know. Then you can recreate an agreement with them. Now, if someone breaks their word over and over, and continues to just say they are sorry, what does that tell you about their word? That it doesn’t mean very much! Continuing to make agreements with people who do this is irresponsible. And it sets us up for disappointment and frustration.
Care enough about the people in your life to hold them accountable, in a loving way. If you do this you will teach the people in your life how to treat you. And you’ll show them how to be more responsible. Better yet, you’ll have relationships that work.