September 2023

LEADER PRACTICE No. 7: Conversations for Action Part 2

In most of the organizations I’ve worked with or for, a prevailing cultural norm strongly suggests that the only acceptable response to a request is some variant of “yes.” And even when we have made clear requests, (see Leader Practice No. 6: Conversations for Action Part 1) we often don’t get what we asked for. When “yes” is the norm, we tend to get compliance instead of a real commitment to action. Or we get the dreaded hedge, which sounds like, “I’ll give it a try” or “I’ll see what I can do.” Such responses skirt commitment. And let’s be honest, how often do we ourselves respond to requests this way?

The only way to give or get a real commitment to a request is to allow for negotiation. In other words, one of five possible responses:

  • yes
  • no
  • request for more information
  • counter offer
  • commit to commit

The first three options are pretty obvious. We make a counter offer when, unable to fulfill a request as stated, we suggest an alternative. We respond with a “commit to commit” by committing that we will confirm a yes, no, or counter offer response within an agreed upon time frame. This is a game changer for many of my clients. It provides time and space to reflect on and determine what we can realistically commit to.

Effectively managing our commitments builds trust and morale. It enhances our reputations. And it alleviates stress. To get real commitments, conscious leaders encourage staff to negotiate – and they practice negotiation themselves. The next time someone responds to your request – or you respond to someone else – ask yourself a question: “Am I getting a real commitment, compliance, or the dreaded hedge?”


Practice “negotiating” in response to requests and encourage your team to negotiate with you on your requests.

  1. When responding to a request, you can:
  • Say Yes (only when you truly can commit)
  • Say No
  • Ask for more information or clarity
  • Make a counter offer (“I can’t do that by that date. I can do it by x. My team lead can attend that meeting.”)
  • Commit-to-commit (“In order to commit to this, I need to check a few things. I can get back to you in 30 minutes. Or 24 hours. Or in a week.”)
  1. Check in with yourself. Which one of these responses is hardest for you to give? To receive?

Check out the seminal HBR article on how to enhance your leadership effectiveness with Conversations for Action, “Promise Based Management: the Essence of Management.”

Until next month…

Dana's signature

Founder and Principal Coach