The Golden Rule is alive and well in business today, despite increasing opportunities afforded by modern technology to lie, cheat, and steal. With constant exhortations to verify references and perform background checks, it’s become even more important than ever to mean what you say and do what you say you will do.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. explores first the reasons why a person makes promises and doesn’t keep them, often using excuses like, “I forgot” or “I’m afraid I won’t do it correctly.” She breaks those reasons down into two categories:

1. Fear of disappointment. Basically, one agrees to do something so as not to disappoint the person making the request.
2. Resistance to control. One resents being controlled and rebels against that control by not doing whatever one agreed to do.

Paul suggests that the tug-and-pull of requesting tasks from someone who agrees and does not perform those tasks sets up a power struggle that cannot end until one of the parties takes responsibility for himself (or herself), “rather than trying to control the other or resist being controlled.”

Why you should keep your word

In her article “5 Reasons to Do What You Say You Will Do,” Paul lists those five reasons why keeping one’s word holds such importance: integrity, trust and reliability, respect, self-worth, and personal power. No school of business teaches these traits; however, they’re just as important–if not more important–than knowing how to manipulate a spreadsheet or analyze a process. If your clients cannot trust you, you can be sure they won’t refer to colleagues and they might damage your already shaky reputation further by warning colleagues against you.

Honesty and integrity build customer loyalty. Keeping your word means not promising what you cannot deliver. The American Management Association states, “When individuals and companies don’t deliver on their brand promises, they fail to create or maintain uniqueness in their brand categories. That translates to a lack of brand loyalty among your customers. That means they’re just as likely to buy someone else’s widget over yours.” The last thing your company should do is over-promise and under-deliver.

That respect for your clients and customers must also translate into like respect for your employees. Employees who suffer from management’s broken promises and lies turn in lackluster performances until they find employment elsewhere.

Break the habit

The failure to do what you say you will do often results from an inability to tell people “No” or a habit of telling people what they want to hear because doing so sets up unrealistic expectations. Mark S. Putnam’s article “Ethical Communications: Keeping Your Promises” puts it bluntly: “Take the issue seriously, call it lying, and resolve that you will not do it.”

To help yourself to break that habit, you may need to post reminders about what you will say. Rehearse what you will say when you feel the urge to capitulate to requests so that you can explain the circumstances of your refusal. Don’t obfuscate. Be clear and straightforward.

“Remember that your words have meaning. People take what you say at face value. Being clear in what you say doesn’t just make you look more intelligent and in tune with the situation,” writes Putnam. And when you do fail, take your lumps and remember that only honesty can save the relationship.