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Spring Forward: 5 Acts for Clear Commitments

The weather has shifted and another Colorado spring is right around the corner. I’m dreaming about my garden, excited about what to plant and what it will produce. This is the same feeling I have about two new clients this month. One is in a completely new industry for me. The other has taken control of her life and is establishing a new vision for her future. Energizing stuff: there is always a powerful sense of possibility in new beginnings like these. But it’s not enough just to feel the energy of our potential. This is a great time of year to invest the commitment that will create the outcomes we desire.

A productive garden requires planning. For me, many factors come into play: the base quality of my soil, the weather (now and in the months ahead), and the amount of time and effort I’m willing to put into preparation and maintenance. Before plunging my hands in the dirt, I try to focus. I balance my picture of a bountiful harvest with realistic assessments of my gardening knowledge and experience. And I try to be honest about the time I can commit. It’s not unlike a productive client engagement or a challenging new project: There is much deliberate preparation involved.

I just had an initial meeting to get acquainted with one of my two new clients. Our several hours together allowed me to learn about her preferences for the mechanics of our collaboration. We established clear and measurable outcomes and a realistic schedule. A recent marketing blog used an apt metaphor for this inaugural phase: the new client pre-nuptial agreement. This is the time to define your hopes and dreams, negotiate them into mutual agreements, and officially commit to them in writing. This written commitment – or contract – serves to build trust, put intention into action, and provide a roadmap that both parties are accountable to follow.

There is an art and a science to putting such commitments into words. The idea of commitment language is well articulated in a book called Language and the Pursuit of Happiness. Author Chalmers Brothers outlines five speech acts that enable clear and accurate communication:

  • Requests: for more clarity than mere suggestions or hints
  • Promises: deliverables that drive your priorities and establish accountability
  • Offers: creating the opportunity to identify and engage available resources
  • Assessments/Declarations: determining capability; focusing on the future
  • Assertions: claims of truth

Consciously engaging these speech acts can establish commitment. And that commitment is your assurance that all your exciting new potential will actually turn into the results you seek. Though they may at first seem simple or obvious, there is a huge difference between these conscious acts and the far less helpful acts of suggesting, implying, or assuming.

Here’s an example of how it works. During an initial meeting, I sensed a client was being overly optimistic about what he could do to produce a deliverable we had discussed. This is not unusual: I suspect the promise of a new working relationship often obscures the reality of executives’ busy schedules. So I requested that this executive create a practical assessment of his ability to fulfill the commitment. He made a promise to deliver. When he was ultimately able to fulfill that promise, his enthusiasm and confidence grew. That kind of groundwork sets the stage for thriving over the length of the relationship and supports the long term sustainability of the work.

Just like my garden in the spring, new projects and working relationships are full of promise. What new programs are you launching? How clear are you and your team about their roles? As you begin, have a conversation for action and use speech acts that clarify goals and outline expectations. Assert the timeline and ask your team members to declare their commitments. Once you’ve finished the initial planning, you can get your hands dirty and push for results.

Speaking of dirty hands, I’ve made my plan and I’m ready to dig into the soil so I can have pea seeds in the ground by St. Patrick’s Day. Here’s to using clear commitments for a bountiful harvest.

Photo by amandabhslater