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6 Magic Words You Should Start Using Today

Accountability means doing what you say you'll do, by when you say you'll do it. Learn these magic words to increase your accountability by learning to set the right expectations.

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Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash
Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

You’ve been here before. Your manager gives you a new project and asks you when you can get it done. You think about it for a second, and give her an optimistic date. Then what happens?

Something unexpected, and urgent, pops up. Or the project takes longer than you think.

Now you’re pulling an all nighter to get it done, or sheepishly asking for more time, kicking yourself the whole way through.

Sound familiar? (I see you nodding.)

But is it inevitable? Nope.

I’M GOING TO TELL YOU THE 6 MAGIC WORDS THAT WILL HELP YOU MAKE SURE THE ABOVE NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN.

But first, let’s talk about a concept you’ve probably heard of before: Underpromise, overdeliver (aka UPOD). UPOD is all about setting yourself up for success, from an expectations perspective. And usually, when we talk about UPOD, we’re talking about quality.

BUT WHAT IF WE USED THE UPOD METHOD FOR TIMING INSTEAD?

The next time someone asks you when you can get to something, resist the urge to tell them the soonest date you could possibly do it, and build in some buffer time for yourself.

If you think you can get it done by Wednesday. Stop. Breath. And don’t say “Wednesday.” Instead, say: “I can get that to you by end of day Friday. Does that timing work for you?

DID YOU SEE WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

  1. You gave yourself some breathing room so that you can still make good on your promise, even if the unexpected comes up (which it likely will), or something takes longer than you anticipate.
  2. You used those magic words I was telling you about. Did you catch them? If not, here they are again: “Does that timing work for you?

NOW, WHY ARE THOSE WORDS SO DARN MAGICAL?

Because they turn something scary (pushing back just a bit and asking for more than the bare minimum) into something that feels pretty good. Some might say “collaborative”.

We’re often afraid of throwing out a date that seems unreasonably distant (even though it probably isn’t). We’re worried about what they’ll think of us. “Why is she so slow?”. But by adding those magic words, we turn an assumption of urgency into a collaborative conversation that reflects reality.

SO HERE’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE START USING THESE 6 MAGIC WORDS

90% of the time, the other party will say “Sure, no problem, that sounds great”.” Or even, “No worries, get it to me next week if you want to. No rush.” (And you’ll be thinking “Wow! I had no idea that would work so well!”)

The other 10% of the time, the other party will say something like “Oh, actually I need this done by tomorrow afternoon for a client meeting.” Not the answer you were hoping for. But that’s OK, because now you have 2 things you didn’t have before:

  1. Knowledge of when the thing is actually due. (In general, people are not always great at communicating due dates up front, which is why we’re going through this rigamarole in the first place. Read all the way to the end for tips on how to be a better delegator.)
  2. Options. If it’s easy for you to reprioritize your day so you can fit this thing in, then you can reprioritize and be the hero. If you’re working on other critical items with near term dues dates, you can let the person know and brainstorm together how to get this thing done. Maybe someone else can do it on the her timeline. Maybe she can do it herself.

WONDERFUL THINGS HAPPEN WHEN WE START TO ADOPT THE UPOD METHOD

First, we start to wow people on the regular. You told your manager Friday, but you actually got it done Wednesday. Look at you! Impressive! (Hey, it’s not all the time that the unexpected blows our estimates out of the water, after all.)

Second, and maybe most importantly, you build a reputation of being 100% accountable. You do the things you say you’ll do by when you say you will.

Don’t you just love working with people like that? (I certainly do!)

WHAT IF YOU’RE THE MANAGER (OR DELEGATOR)?

As a manager, you’re often assigning work to others. You’re in a position of power. How about using that power for good? Here’s some language you can use that’s bound to have your employees sighing with relief the next time you delegate something to them:

“I’d love your help on project X. Here’s what it would entail. It’d be great for this to be done by Wednesday; does that timing work for you?

Or better yet:

“I’d love your help on project X. Here’s what it would entail. Do you have the bandwidth to take this on? If so, when do you think would be a reasonable date for completion?”

NOTE: if you’re the one delegating, you actually want to provide buffer in the opposite direction. So, if you need something by Friday, you want to ask the person if they can get it done by Wednesday. Much as we wish everyone would follow the UPOD method, we can’t be sure. So if you ask for something with a little buffer before you actually need it, then you’re allowing for a little lateness that won’t mess up your downstream obligations.

WHAT IF YOU WORK FOR YOURSELF?

Now, let’s say you work for yourself, and you’re the one giving yourself due dates. Well, the next time you set an arbitrary due date for yourself, I want you to ask yourself when you realistically think you can get it done. And then I want you to add a couple of days to give yourself some buffer.

If you’re eager to get that potential client your proposal, instead of saying “I’ll get it to you by the end of the day.” say, “I can get that to you by the end of the week; does that timing work for you?” And then watch how pleased they are when you send the proposal earlier than they were anticipating it. Way to wow people from the get go!

So, who’s up for a little experiment? Try out these magic words at your next opportunity, and let me know how it goes!

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