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How to Stop Overpromising

Female consultant sitting at a table with a notebook in hand

Have you ever been in an important meeting with a potential client, and just as you are on the brink of winning the contract, they have one last question to ask. This question is a request for additional services or expansion of your work that will extend beyond your current comfort level in one way or another. Nevertheless, you feel obligated to agree to their terms in fear that not doing so will result in your loss of such a great deal.

Sound the music as your mind starts racing.

This puts you in the hot seat. All eyes (and ears) are on you.

You want to show your dedication and highlight your knowledge and expertise. So, despite the nagging feeling inside and your intuition which is telling you “No. No. NO!”, you hear the words, “Sure. That would be no problem.” ease out of your mouth.

Almost immediately, you realize that it wasn’t the best decision. When you finally have an opportunity to dig a little deeper, you know that you may need need to backtrack, apologize, and readdress the project again. That’s not what we want to happen.

Here is why…

Overpromising can erode trust.

Let’s face it. You have to make sure that your word means something. That means you have to deliver what has been promised. Not doing so will cause your client to question everything moving forward. This erodes the trust you have worked so hard to build.

Trust is key to building influence which is at the heart of driving behavioral change in consulting. It is the most vulnerable aspect of your practice because it can so easily be broken. It is important always to remain mindful of the fragility of this one component of your client-consultant relationship and protect it at all costs.

Overpromising can damage your reputation.

Not only can you create a scenario where your client begins to question what you are saying, but overpromising can also increase your likelihood of failure. If you are starting from a place where you know that you are not equipt to deliver the desired result, there is a chance that the gap will be too big to fill quickly. That is a very real possibility. The inability to fill this gap means that you will likely leave your client disappointed because they will not achieve the result you have promised.

What happens with disappointed clients? They often share a negative experience. The one thing that we hate to see happen in business. If this negative experience is horrible or has a significant reach, it can significantly damage your reputation. While we will always have to deal with a client here or there who may not be overly excited about our work, this is a self-inflicted injury. One that, if deep enough, we may not be able to bounce back from easily.

Overpromising can lead you away from your destination.

Even if you can stretch yourself and deliver some fraction of all that you promised, doing so likely changed your path because this was not in-line with your original offer and zone of expertise. I will venture to say that the work that resulted was not aligned with your vision. You are now moving further away from your ultimate destination.

What do detours do? They make your journey longer.

You pay the price in a time when you work on something not aligned with your overall vision or goal. It is time spent working toward something that was not required. Remember, the client never said that this was a deal-breaker. They never required this of you. You created the expectation. Therefore, it becomes very much like busywork that prolongs our journey to achieving our goal.

What can you do instead? How can you avoid overpromising in the future?

Pause. Breathe.

Then, ask the right questions.

Take your time to think through the proposition and what it would take to deliver the result. Do your homework. I have even developed a checklist to help you through this process (see above). Ask all of the necessary questions to ensure that you can deliver what you promise. Don’t be afraid to ask for more time. Only after careful consideration can you give an answer that you will not regret.

Never feel too rushed where you skip the necessary prework. Remember, your future clients may be watching!

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