Say, Mean, Do: Language of Commitment & Accountability


How we say (or write) things makes a difference. Both for the listener and the speaker.

  • “Let’s set up a meeting.”
  • “We should take care of that.”
  • “I think I can do this today.”
  • “I’ll try to do that as soon as possible.”
  • “I’ll get started on that today.”
  • “I will send out a meeting invitation today.”
  • “I will take care of that by Tuesday.”
  • “I will do this today.”
  • “I’ll get that done by 18:00.”


Deconstructing the building blocks of the language of commitment we hear:

  • An expected end time or date. Without this part, the commitment would be fully open to interpretation and would be virtually meaningless. (Use “by” for an end time, not “at”)
  • An assumption that the actions are fully under our control
  • “I will meet with Joe, and together we’ll decide how to solve this today.”
  • “I will send out a meeting request to Joe today about solving this.
  • Also, when faced with a task that doesn’t lend itself to a clear end date, set a time box, and then commit to regroup, replan, and recommit based on what was found.

The “DaveK” Corollary

Say “Yes” to the right things and “No” to everything else. Say “No.” It is ok to say it often. Really. Say it clearly. Be honest. Don’t buffer the time frame. Don’t say what you think the team/individual wants to hear. (For more ways to say “No” see: A Clear “No” Can Be More Graceful Than A Vague Or Noncommittal “Yes”)

Do (Or do not. There is no try.)

Ok, so you’ve been clear in your language and have made a commitment. What happens if you can’t keep it? Do you pretend we kinda made it? Duck and cover? Seek excuses?

Getting Started with Accountability

If you are not already speaking in the language of commitment, start today. In team conversations like the daily stand up and with one-on-one discussions. If it feels awkward at first, great! That means you’re pushing the edges of your comfort zone and are on to learning new things.

Speak Honestly, Directly and For Yourself

  • Be mindful of speaking only for yourself. Consciously use “I” and “Me.” Do not use “We” “They” “Us” “Everybody” “You” as a place to hide what you really mean to say.
  • Speak on your own behalf, not on behalf of others (present or not present)
  • Is everyone present who should be? Are you “triangulating” / “pairing”?
  • Be clear about your intentions and your expected outcome.
  • Don’t ask questions that are not really questions. If you can rephrase something as a statement, is it really a question?
  • Don’t ask “Why didn’t you….?” (Which makes the excuse that follows acceptable…) Ask instead:
  • Did you know how…?
  • Did you know what…?
  • Was it important to you…?`



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