How To Keep Friends

Neil StraussNeil

Do you think it’s possible that with one post, I can improve the way the people you’re closest to in your life see you?

Let’s find out.

Because over the course of my life, from experience, I’ve learned a hard-won lesson I want to share today. As the New Year approaches, it’s also something to think about for making yourself a better person in 2012.

It can can change your personal and professional relationships–and thus the course of your life–and is very easy to implement:

Start a list right now on your cell phone, iPad, journal, the back of a receipt, or wherever you keep notes. (It must be something you carry with you–not a desktop computer, for example.)

The list should be titled MY WORD.

And…

  • Every time you tell someone you’ll send them a link or let them borrow something
  • Every time you tell someone you’ll introduce them to a person or send them that person’s contact information
  • Every time you promise to help someone or accompany them anywhere
  • Every time you tell someone you will do anything for them, no matter how great or small

…write it down on your MY WORD list.

Then refer to that list at least once a week and follow through on each item.

Because the fact is, most people make promises that they really mean in the moment, but then minutes or hours later–because we can only hold seven pieces of information in our short-term memory–they completely forget having given their word to a friend or someone they work with.

But that other person, the one who was given the promise, doesn’t forget it. Because it’s something they really want or need help with, they store it in their long-term memory. And though you may have completely forgotten having mentioned it, they haven’t. And do you know what occurs after this happens once or twice or three times? You lose one of the most important things a friend or colleague or potential career connection needs: Trust.

And without trust, there can be no real relationship.

You may be reading this thinking that you don’t do this, but I can pretty much guarantee you that unless you have a system in place for keeping track of the promises you make people, you are forgetting some of them and damaging, even in a subtle way, important relationships.

In some cases, the person will remind you, and you may then follow through. But in more cases, the person whose trust you damaged will never even tell you this, because they don’t want to seem petty. After all, you were doing them a favor out of the goodness of your heart.

Conversely, because everyone does this to some degree, by being someone who FOLLOWS THROUGH on what they tell someone, you will stand out in their minds as exceptional, and gain not just trust but something even more rare: Integrity. And from that relationship, all kinds of great things will grow and blossom. You will get so much more back than you ever gave.

Before we wind this up, there’s a second step to add to being a person of integrity: Don’t make promises you don’t intend to or have time to keep. A lot of people, with the best of intentions, make promises to help others out. They do this often from a sincere need to gain the other person’s respect or approval (or avoid disappointing them). And in the moment, that’s what they get. But when they don’t deliver on that promise, they end up with the opposite outcome.

So start your list now. To help you out, here’s a simple template I gave the guys in The Society to help them keep their promises within the group when it comes to helping out each others’ careers, game, and networks. And they’ve been filling these up rapidly:

http://www.neilstrauss.com/myword.pdf (right-click to download)

You may recall that Madonna in Everyone Loves you When You’re Dead mentioned the book The Four Agreements, and that one of them was “be impeccable with your word.” I still haven’t read the book, and am not sure if it recommends similar steps, but if it does, then let this be a reinforcement of the message.

Finally, sometimes circumstances outside of your control prevent you from fulfilling a promise, so the solution is to let the person you’re talking to know this upfront so they understand the situation and are then doubly excited if you follow through and not disappointed if you can’t (and let them know you tried).