I just read a post that made me wince. Fred K. posted on LinkedIn about making a mistake at the end of meetings. I think I actually make that same mistake via email and in casual conversations not infrequently. That mistake is making fuzzy commitments.

According to Fred, there are many wrong ways to ask someone to do something and several inexact ways to respond to a request.

Some of my “greatest hits” of fuzzy asking:

“Do you think you could…?”

“It would be great if…”

“Why don’t you…?”

Fred says effective asks follow this pattern:

  1. In order to get A (a want or need),
  2. I ask that you deliver B by C.
  3. Can you commit to that?

The correct set of answers to the commitment question (step 3 above):

  1. Yes, I commit
  2. No, I can’t do that
  3. I can’t say yet, because I need clarification, require a specific amount of time to consider, have a counteroffer or can commit only with explicit conditions

Forget about “I’ll try” or “Let me get back to you” as answer options. Make the response to the request unmistakeable.

Too often problems with accountability start with unclear requests or inexact responses. Either the task itself is ambiguous or the commitment to do it is vague. Either way, you won’t get the results you seek.


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