The Gap Between Saying and Doing

Monday Author:  Susanne Skinner

I belong to the Women Who Do Too Much Club. I’ve always been like this; born with the desire to please by saying yes to everything I am asked for.

The Insidious Gap Between Saying and Doing, Say-Do Gap, What We Say, What We DoOver the years I’ve learned to say no to things I really don’t want to do as well as things I don’t have the time or tools to complete. It’s been a hard lesson to learn. Completion for me has a high bar. I want it accomplished to my standards of excellence. This applies across the board, including work product, home projects and any item that comes from my kitchen.

When I say yes, I do so with the belief I can deliver. But not everybody is able to do that. Some say yes and mean no, while others agree and deliver far less than expected. It’s the Say-Do gap; the difference between words and actions.

The Say-Do Gap

The Say-Do Gap is a current buzz word in the corporate world, focused on commitment to collaboration for performance excellence. The gap occurs when teams have loads of enthusiasm and commitment for a task but nobody is sure how to accomplish it.

Collaboration is embodied in corporate leadership principles, but leaders don’t always lead. When they fail to provide the tools or training for their teams to deliver collaborative outcomes they fall into this gap and have no idea how to get out of it.

When you are a leader it is not your job title that’s important, it’s your performance.  Actions always speak louder than words.

I Said Yes but I Meant No

When you make a commitment to your direct reports, telling them you are going to do something, do it. When you follow through with spoken and written commitments your actions show your team that you have their collective interests in the crosshairs of success.

If you say yes to buy yourself time, or to pacify those making demands, you have set yourself up for failure. If you are a leader, you will take your team down with you. If you are an individual contributor you have created a set of expectations you can’t possibly meet.

When you agree to something you don’t want to do, it may be to avoid a negative reaction or because you feel obligated to say yes to keep your approval rating high.  The reality is that failure to follow through will affect your approval rating far more than the no you should have said. Saying no sets a reasonable expectation for what can be done given the time and resources at your disposal and opens the door to other options.

By saying yes when we know we cannot possibly deliver the goods, we have allowed others to define our value and worth to the organization. A false yes creates the approval that makes you feel good and keeps you in the good graces of the individual that put you in the position to begin with, but it rarely has a good outcome.

Managing Expectations

Learn to say yes when you mean it, learn to say no when you mean it. There is honesty in both responses. If you said yes to someone but meant no, you have set an expectation that will betray both of you.

Expectations vs Reality, Saying and DoingSaying yes is easy. Saying no is harder but in the end, it will help balance expectations on each side of the equation. I have learned to trust the ‘no’ feeling a request generates. If it feels like no, it’s probably in everyone’s best interests to say it. The damage you do by agreeing to something that is not possible lessens leadership credibility and creates performance issues that may not be deserved but are impossible to overcome.

On the other hand, a “hell yes” can rally the enthusiasm and resources needed to be successful. It is always possible to rebalance things in favor of accomplishing the goal when expectations are managed from the beginning.  Both sides have a vested interest in the outcome.

Asking for a period of time to evaluate the request and review the available resources is another way to rebalance the outcome.

A Culture of Yes

We live in a culture that prefers consensus over discord. This is especially true at work, when discord could affect our employment. When it becomes easier to agree to preserve work relationships there is a leadership failure and the say-do gap becomes almost too wide to bridge.

A leader is the most powerful communication source in any organization. They are the conscience of the company and employees listen to what they say and watch what they do. When leaders say and do the same thing they are invested in the success of everyone in the company,

If what they say and what they do are at odds with each other, everyone’s performance suffers. Actions always speak louder, and it means your leaders are walking the walk.

Know Your Value

It isn’t worth saying yes when you don’t want to. Eventually, that false yes will lead you to the no you should have said to begin with. Never be afraid of letting other people down at the cost of your own productivity and self-worth.

Know Your Value, Saying and Doing, Say-Do GapIf you don’t have the bandwidth, the skills or the resources to get something done, speak up. Ask for help, look for options, and offer yourself in a smaller, more manageable role. Honesty is of more value than a poorly executed or incomplete project.

You have the right to say no, and others have the right to tell you no, especially if the request takes up time but adds no value. If that’s not part of your job description it should be.

No matter what job title you have, you will be remembered for what you say and judged on what you do.

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