Promises date back thousands of years, they represent a complex social norm and when we break them, the consequences extend beyond our control. Promises are still one of the most important tools we have to help us navigate social encounters. People keep promises because it helps to build the foundation necessary for maintaining and evolving relationships. The larger the promise, the greater the obligation is to fulfill it.
Big promises create big expectations and when those expectations aren’t met the brain responds by signaling a decrease in dopamine production. When we make a promise and meet or exceed expectations that signals an increase in dopamine production which makes us, and the person(s) we made the promise to, feel good.
Promises also help signal to the outside world our level of trustworthiness. Your brain wants consistency, it needs it. So when someone makes a promise that something will happen, our brain believes that it will, which is quite comforting for the brain.
When a promise isn’t fulfilled, that consistency your brain was counting on disappears. It’s not only a breach of trust and expectation—it’s a violation of one of the most fundamental social norms that people have. This goes way beyond disappointment, it alters the way people perceive and interact with us.
You should make a promise out of your genuine desire to follow through, not because you feel an obligation to do so. Consider what you are trying to achieve by making this promise and whether or not it can be obtained by making a smaller, more manageable promise.
Instead of promising to complete the entire project in an unreasonable amount of time, break the project up into sections. Promise to have portions of the project completed by a certain date. This allows you to manage expectations and keep up with the workload. Your co-workers will still be impressed and you’ll be able to keep your promise.
In general, people respect people that do what they say they are going to do. Sometimes we can’t help but break a promise. Be up-front and immediately offer an apology. It makes a difference and will go a long way towards repairing your relationship.
A great number of conflicts is fueled by unmet expectations and a lot of these are driven by promises that were never met. This cuts across all spheres of life and can have the same effect both in the work sphere as well as our social engagements.
Each time you make good on a promise you will feel that much more confident in your abilities. Every promise fulfilled will help you to associate your name with positivity and trust. Making promises you can keep is instrumental to helping you build and maintain any relationship in life.