Commitment means different things to different people in different situations. In the workplace, it’s a frequent but ambiguous request, as in “we need to stop having incidents, and I need your commitment that they will stop.”
Do any of us have that kind of power? The command is delivered as if we were purposely allowing bad things to happen all along. I’ve sat in those audiences thinking: if I knew how to keep bad things from happening, don’t you think I would?
I’ve also been that supervisor. As a manager, I’ve believed that by asking for and then receiving commitment from my employees––whether it be a verbal pact or signing a really cool poster we could hang on the wall––I’d gain the peace of mind knowing we’d avoid all future incidents.
Since then, I have come to realize that for commitment to be powerful, it has to be authentic, and in order for it to be authentic, it has to be a sincere exchange: an invitation, followed by a choice, followed by my acceptance of that choice. When I was able to begin creating that give-and-take, wonderful things started to happen.
Our brains make choices, not commitments
In our brains, where past experiences, memories and beliefs reside, we make choices, not commitments. Commitment comes from the heart.
I was in a workshop when I discovered this truth for the first time. I didn’t know why I was struggling with making a commitment to something that made good sense and felt right. My heart wanted to say “I’m in,” but my brain, with all those past experiences, paradigms, and beliefs, kept getting in my way.
It was the first time that felt like I had been given the chance to honestly say, “No, I can’t commit,” without the fear of being ridiculed by my peers or bosses. In that moment, I felt I could make a commitment based on what I wanted and not something that was expected of me or demanded from me.
Because of that freedom to make my own choice, I became deeply committed to the request regardless of what my past was telling me. Ultimately, my heart and brain became in sync and in it for the long haul.
From that point on, I stopped demanding and expecting my employees to make commitments to safety, their health, the environment, or the project’s success. Instead, I started working on my personal relationships to commitment, and by doing so, allowed others the opportunity to make their own choices for their own reasons.
A new culture was created, where holding each other accountable became much easier and in truth, much less frequent, because nobody wanted to let anybody down.
If you are that supervisor, I sympathize and urge you to consider what you’re actually accomplishing. Most people have the best intentions and diligently attempt to improve current circumstances by asking for and at times demanding commitment to something, without truly understanding that making a commitment is personal and that it must be given, not taken.