The Art/Skill Of Keeping Your Word

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Is keeping your word a soft skill? What do you call it? What’s the word for keeping your word? As an avowed word geek, I can give you 15 synonyms for “promise” but none of them seem exactly right. Is a promise still a promise if you don’t say the words, “I promise,” or is it just “keeping your word?”

We see a lot of “oath-breaking” these days. I know, it sounds very Game of Thrones, but there it is. Countries who were thought to lead the world, pull out of established agreements, social contracts are broken by people calling the police on other people because of a barbecue, couples get divorced and people lie right to your face. 

When did doing what you said you were going to do become so damn difficult? Suddenly I feel like Andy Rooney with better-manicured eyebrows. Is this a bygone concept, something that no longer has a place in this global, digital world? If we can’t stand in our word, is it the end of civilization as we know it?

I recently had a conversation with my teenage daughter on this very subject. She told me that she would do something in a period of time and the thing did not get done (Aside: teenagers, sheesh!! Amiright?!) When I asked her about it and told her that she had given me her word, she responded with, “No, I said I’d do it but I didn’t promise.” She couldn’t tell me the difference between the two except the actual pronouncement of the words, “I promise.” Evidently there are levels of troth-ness that I was unaware of. 

There is honor in doing what you say you will do, and personal accountability. It goes along with trustworthiness and strength of character. If you can’t stand in your words truthfully, then you’ll create distrust and chaos around you. Perhaps we don’t mean to not keep our word, it’s just easier, more comfortable, not to. If keeping your word is a soft skill, it’s a hard one. 

Here’s how this works….You say you will, and you do, in a timely manner. Don’t make someone chase or hound you. If, it ends up you cannot do the thing, say so, in a timely manner. Be honest. Don’t avoid. Don’t ghost. Don’t be that guy. Abide by the contracts, social and otherwise, that make a civilization civil. If you have reason to protest them, do so with integrity. These are the things we can learn and practice and teach. 

As for me, maybe I didn’t say, “I promise,” but I did say I would and between them is no difference at all.


LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics headquartered in Charleston, SC.  Her company provides a wealth of soft skills training events that utilize theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.