Keeping Agreements – What Best to do When you Don’t

We have covered a number of points in this blog series. We have noted the importance of keeping agreements; that the more you keep them, the more you will stand out to other people and the more you will get what you want. We have noted the importance for trust-building to recognize when you have made an agreement; and that it is important to make agreements carefully so that you can have the best chance of keeping them. Last week we said it is of paramount importance to keep agreements made solely to yourself.

This is the final blog post on this topic and it addresses the inevitable question – if keeping agreements is so important to my relationships and to creating and sustaining trust with other people, then what happens if I break my agreement with someone?

This is such an important point. The intention should always be to keep your agreements. This why it’s important to speak carefully so people are clear if you are making an agreement; and why it is important to keep your agreements if at all possible. However, all is not lost if you do not keep every agreement. You can still build trust with people even when you break an agreement. Here’s how.

First, people will look at your history. So the following tips may or may not work if you have a history of breaking agreements on a regular basis. The more agreements you keep, the more space people will give you when you break an agreement.

Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust outlines 13 key behaviors in building and maintaining trust. I find them so powerful that I wrote a blog post on each individual behavior. You can go to this post as an intro and then you can scroll through them all if you are interested in learning more. (

There are two behaviors from Covey that I would like to introduce you to as a way of building and maintaining trust even if you break an agreement. They are “be accountable” and “right wrongs.” Essentially, the way to be with people when you do not keep an agreement is the following:

1. Admit it. Admit it quickly and neutrally. You don’t need to beat yourself up about it. Nor should you blow it off. “I broke this agreement. I apologize. Keeping agreements with you is important to me. Here is how I will rectify it for you.” Admit broken agreements even where no one would find out.

2. Rectify it. Fix it. And quickly. Put them on the top of your list. If I break a scheduling appointment with a client, I give them a free call. It happens rarely but I want them to see their time is important to me and that it matters that I do what I say I will with them.

3. Examine why and how you broke the agreement and put systems or practices in place so you don’t do it again. This can be a powerful place of learning if you are willing to look.
This concludes our series on keeping agreements. Please email me if you have further questions. It is a powerful topic. And as with everything outside your comfort zone, don’t get discouraged. Just keep practicing.

About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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