How to Empower Yourself When Others Don’t Follow Through
(Time to read: ~5 minutes)
One of the hardest things for us to deal with in relationships is when someone agrees to do something for us, and then doesn’t do it.
Either because they forgot, they changed their mind, or “something came up”.
This applies to small things – like a staff person not delivering a routine report to their manager, or someone forgetting to pick up milk on the way home.
And it also applies to big things – like a valued contract employee leaving before the end of their term, or a partner leaving a marriage or changing their mind about having a child.
This article talks about what you can do to care for yourself AND deal effectively with these moments.
It includes a key approach that has been a breakthrough for me in creating peace and effectiveness in my professional and personal life.
Acknowledge that Yes, It’s Hard!
It can be shocking, frustrating, and scary when something you’ve been counting on doesn’t happen.
You can be left floundering, wondering how to deal with it.
If you’re a leader – how can you keep the work on track?
If it happens with your partner – how can you create the life you want in light of this?
First, Care for Yourself
This is a time to be extra compassionate to yourself.
Ask yourself what YOU need, and attend to that.
There are two key kinds of support you may need at this time.
1) Emotional Support
It’s natural to feel however you feel – whether it’s slight annoyance or outrage; mild dismay or devastation; sadness or anything else.
And your feelings may change rapidly from moment to moment.
You may think you’re gotten over it, only to have powerful emotions rise up again when you least expect them.
Accept the reality of this roller-coaster. And trust that it will serve you in the long run.
If you have a friend, colleague or counsellor you know you can count on for emotional support, reach out and call them, or book a session.
Even if you’re telling yourself there’s nothing they can do.
Just having someone listen to you can help an amazing amount.
My clients repeatedly say that when I listen to them. And I know it’s true when someone listens to me.
2) Practical Support
You may still need the milk. Or the project to be completed.
Recognize that what happened just added more to your to do list.
Take the time to re-prioritize what you need to focus on now.
I know it’s tempting to try to carry on, and add this extra work to your plate. And it can be hard to let go of the things you were planning to focus on next.
But for your own sanity and well-being, it is essential to recognize that some things may need to be postponed, to give you the time and energy to deal with this “hole” in your life, effectively and with grace.
My Approach to Handling These Situations
Over time, I have found that I’ve become much less affected by these kinds of events in my life – more peaceful and able to roll with the punches.
What’s my secret?
I’ve learned two things:
- When someone says they will do something for me, I recognize that what they mean is in that moment, they intend to do it.
But when the time comes to actually do it, things may have changed. They may no longer be willing – or perhaps even able – to do what they said.
Maybe they totally underestimated the time it would take. Or they just didn’t get started in time. Or they don’t have a very good system for keeping track of their commitments.
So, in my mind, I hold the commitments other people make to me quite lightly.
They might do what they said, which would be wonderful.
Or they might not. This doesn’t mean that they don’t care about me, or respect me or my time.
It just means they didn’t do what they earlier said they would do.
- I need to always have a “Plan B” – a way that I will take care of myself and make sure my needs are met, even if the other person doesn’t do what they said they would do.
A “Plan B” is different than what many people mean when they talk about “consequences” – the “negative” things they will make happen to people who don’t fulfill their agreements (such as fines or missing out on a positive experience the person was looking forward to – whether a round of golf, or a training they wanted to attend).
I personally find it more effective to avoid stirring up negative emotions in others (which is what this type of “consequence” tends to do) – because I find it backfires in the long run, and wastes the other person’s time, energy, and goodwill in the short term.
In contrast, a “Plan B” is the positive action I will take to ensure that I get what I need in any situation.
Business Plan B Examples
Here are some simple Plan B’s I put in place when I give an assignment to one of my team members:
- First, I try to schedule the due date of the assignment so that, even if the other person has inadvertently not started it when we sit down to go over their work, there is still time to complete it by the date I really need to have it.
- Second, depending on the person’s demonstrated capacity to stay on top of their work, I may send a reminder email several days ahead of the due date we set, to ensure they’re remembering the commitment.
- Much of what my team is doing these days they have never done before, so neither of us knows exactly how long it will take them to do.
So when I initiate work on a new program, I always have a backup “Plan B” of what I will do if the new technology / development is not done in time. Delay the release? Use existing technology? Something else?
- For newer members of the team, depending on their strengths and learning edges, I put a variety of other customized Plan B’s in place for each of them.
To ensure that I get what I need, they feel good about themselves and our relationship, and it takes less work (and fewer “Plan B’s”) for me to manage them over time.
If you’ve been finding it challenging to create effective Plan B’s with one or more of your team members, feel free to book a session to help you identify and put those in place.
Personal Plan B Examples
- One of the key places my partner John and I are dependent on one another is the use of our shared vehicle.
John is very reliable in getting the car back when he says he will. At the same time, Toronto traffic can be very unpredictable.
I was once caught in a traffic jam that turned a normal 20-minute trip into a two-and-a-half-hour marathon.
So whenever John is using the car earlier in the day when I also need it, I will have identified a “Plan B” strategy and know at what time I need to switch to that.
We also have the capacity to use GPS to track each other’s cell phones, so I have a reasonably accurate idea of where he is and thus when he may be back.
I like it when Plan B’s don’t require human intervention or action. We humans are lovely creatures, but we’re not generally as consistent as technology. 🙂
- Another example – a couple I worked with used to have huge arguments on days when one of them was sick and unable to take their three-year-old to daycare.
We worked together to come up with a “Plan B” to handle those occasions, and mornings have gone much more smoothly ever since.
FYI – the need for a “Plan B” always seems obvious once it’s been recognized. But it’s often hard to realize that’s what’s needed when you’re dealing with a difficult or frustrating situation. 🙂 .
Finding the “Plan B’s” You Need
Is there a situation in your life where someone isn’t fulfilling their agreements?
Are you stumped about how to make things work for you in that situation?
One of my students calls me “The Queen of Strategies”. I seem to have a natural knack of helping people find ways to get their needs met even in challenging circumstances.
I would be happy to support you in doing this and identifying “Plan B’s” that work for you.