As an Executive Coach, I often find that clients feel overwhelmed by the amount they need to do in their work and personal lives. The way they are making promises sometimes contributes to their issue. And of course, breaking promises adds a sense of guilt and there are repercussions. For example, others no longer trust them and there is a spiraling negative effect. Everything takes more energy and the sense of being overburdened escalates. In cases like this, coaching helps.
In integral coaching, we often use distinctions to amplify our movement from our current narrative to a future way of being. Let me share a great metaphor with you. But first, you need background: I come from the Kingdom of the Zulus and live in Pietermaritzburg, the capital city of the Province of KwaZulu-Natal, Republic of South Africa. Let’s look at some ‘quick facts’?
- Capital: Pietermaritzburg
- Major city: Durban
- Languages: 77.8% isiZulu, 13.2% English (there are many other languages spoken)
- Population: 10 267 300 (2011)
- Share of SA population: 19.8%
- Area: 94 361 square kilometres
- Share of total SA area: 7.7%
You’ll see that 77.8% of our provincial population of 10,267, 3000 (2011 stats) have isiZulu as their first language. And our Zulus have many fascinating customs and rituals. Recently I was given a Promise Pot.
The instructions read: ‘According to an ancient Zulu custom, when two or more people make a promise to each other, they whisper into a Promise Pot. Use this little Pot as a safe place to keep your promises, wishes, prayers and dreams.’
In life, often it is easier to deal with concepts when we have a container for them. For example, if fire is not contained, it could ‘run away’. Similarly it might be much easier to keep promises if we whisper them into a container! If you have problems in keeping your promises, try it, it might work for you. But first make sure that it really is a promise. What is a promise? Have you ever thought about it?
I’m grateful to the Centre for Coaching, UCT Graduate School of Business for deepening our understanding of the role of promises in our ‘way of being’. Sometimes, when we are coaching, we need to incorporate self-observations and practices relating to building competence in making promises. To do that, we need to understand what a promise really is. And I’m grateful to the Centre for Coaching, as part of the ACC programme, for providing us with the information that follows.
The essence of a promise is as follows:
- A promise is the commitment you make to fulfilling what someone else has requested.
- Implies you understand the request fully and that you are competent and sincere about fulfilling what has been asked of you.
- Trust about someone’s rigour and sincerity as a promise comes into play.
So, what is the purpose of a promise?
- Mutual commitment to future action.
- Constructive response to someone else’s request.
And what responsibility does the person making the promise have?
- To be sincere in mutual commitment to action, as well as to be competent to perform specified actions
What possible issues may there be in relation to making the promise?
- When promises are not met the requester will start to feel betrayed and become resentful/distrustful of that person.
- Fundamental social action of trust lives in our assessment of other’s ability and responsibility to keep promises and commitments. Without trust, relationships, organisations and societies are in a state of constant vigilance and chaos.
- When you promise and you are not sure what was requested, the result can be disappointment and frustration.
- The same applies when breaking promises without taking care.
So getting back to the story of the Promise Pot, how could we use it? An example could be the promise between two people – my “Cognitive Self” and my “Heart Self”. My cognitive self, the judgmental logical self, tells me I should eat more healthily. My heart does not want to do that. I love eating gnocci with loads of creamy gorgonzola cheese. So if the two selves together whispered into the pot “we promise to enjoy only healthy food” would that make it easier to keep the promise? I might have to make sure the lid is tightly closed. It would be counter productive if the promise escaped into “thin air”.
In life we make many promises. And most of us make promises only when we intend keeping them. Make promises that you are confident you can keep and you will experience a greater sense of freedom and self-worth.
For more information on Executive Coaching or training in communication skills, please contact Brenda on firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 82 4993311.
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