Influence - The Problem with Promising

In life, our ability to influence is a major (the major?) element in being able to create prosperity, fulfilment connection and a whole host of wonderful things.

Sometimes, through our desire to influence we drop into the mode of 'trying to convince', and within this mode find ourselves resorting to making 'promises' in an attempt to get what we want.

"I promise you, if you do x then y will happen"

…or something similar.

Now we may think are being strong and bold in going for what we want and promising to deliver, but really we are undermining ourselves and the quality of the connection we have with the person we are beseeching with our promises.

Promising like this is weak. And it is weak for 3 reasons:

  • 1. Neediness - It is driven by, and therefor communicates, neediness.
  • 2. Trust - As an activity it only makes sense within the context of a lack of trust - and so its operation re-affirms (or even creates) the very lack of trust it attempts to overcome.
  • 3. Disconnection from 'what is' - It creates a future orientation; disconnecting people from the present and 'what is', and connecting them to a hypothetical future that the promise or promiser has no validity to guarantee.

Lets look at each of these in turn.


Neediness is simply not attractive or impactful. People just don't like it. For some reason they're just not into people who are always looking to others to get stuff from them. And even if they go along with it, they are always resenting it on some level and have bad feelings about it (this may not even be within consciousness even, but it's there).

The opposite of neediness is completeness, centredness and 'abundance' (which is an attitude founded in an understanding), and coming from this place you just have so much more to offer… and therein lies the key! Having something to offer is ALWAY more powerful, impactful and attractive than wanting to get something. And when you offer, wonderful things tend to flow back to you in return (just so long as you are open to receive).

But promising… why would you promise something unless you were trying to persuade someone of something? And why would you try to persuade them if there wasn't some need of your own you were trying to get met?

When you are the one with the cool stuff to offer, why would you need to promise anything? Just show the person the cool stuff! Let them experience it. Be present with them and what you have to offer and if they like what you have to offer they will be thrilled. They will want more.

This principle applies to all relationships and exchanges. Show up as a person with something to offer - even if that something is just your centredness, presence and leadership in that moment. People love that and respond powerfully to that alone. And 'promising' things just undermines it.


Overt promising is essentially what you do when you attempt to convince someone in the face of a lack of trust. What you are saying is "I know you have your doubts, but… I promise…"

So by promising, you are reenforcing the frame of 'lack of trust'… or even creating it! Because that is what will happen if you default to promise making when there is no lack of trust in the first place - you will establish the frame and then get caught up in it. And I don't need to say why 'lack of trust' is not a frame that will serve you!


I mentioned above the qualities of centredness, presence and leadership. Powerful experiences happen in the present moment only, and what makes them powerful is being present with them. If you wish to have an impact on someone, you need to keep them in the present moment, because that is the only moment that any kind of impact can happen.

By promising, you are taking the person out of the present moment and connecting them to a future moment. You are disconnecting them from 'what is' and instead connecting them to a hypothetical future that hasn't happened yet. And worse than that a hypothetical future that you and your promise have no validity to guarantee.

Keeping people in the present is strong. Connecting them to what is. If you do talk about hypotheticals, be honest about what they are contingent upon (instead of just blindly promising them) and bring them alive in the moment! Use present continuous tense in your language, and make sure what you are saying/doing/being is serving them right now in this present moment! Again, right now is all there is!

As an example of this, a client recently asked me a question regarding my 'thoughts on necessary duration' regarding a coaching program. He wanted to know how long it would take to deliver his stated objectives, and he wanted me to state that. Now, within this request there are a whole bunch of invitations to step into frames that will neither serve me, the client or the coaching process, so to engage with them would be counterproductive.

So instead I chose to keep things in the moment and serve the client by connecting him to 'what is' (rather than what might be) INCLUDING his own power and creativity to transform himself:

"You can bring these things into your life right now... this is less about an 'instillation' and more about clearing out what is in the way of you being as you want to be. You are already a creator and already a powerful guy (and I'm not fluffing you here - we have spoken and I have read what you have written in your emails)... we're just bringing that out more and refining it."

There are no promises made in this statement - only statements of the truth as I see it. I bring the entire thing back into the present reconnect the client to his 'ownership' through emphasising what he is that is powerful.

Everything in this statement is about the present and the continuing developing present. This is the only place I can serve the client. This is the only place the client can transform. Right now.

So instead of persuading and promising I am orientating to serving the client - serving him by orientating him into the moment and connecting him with empowering frames. We are working right now, not promising to work in the future.

Now, this is an example from the world of coaching, but the principle is the same for relationship building across any context (personal or professional) - forget promising things for the future and focus on connecting people to things (ideas, perceptions, feelings, experiences) that have impact for them right now!

(just to close the loop on that example, his response was: "Thanks James. Sounds good. Lets get moving :-)")


Just to be clear… I'm NOT saying "don't make any commitments or agreements" here!

Having clear agreements on what you commit to do is STRONG. But this is very different from 'promising'. The entire energy/vibe is different.

When you set an agreement you say "this is what I will do". It is a statement of'what is' and as such there is no introduction of counterproductive 'trust issues' - because it sits squarely within a 'matter of facts' frame rather than a 'matter of trust' frame.

Now some may well say:

"Well that is just semantics… if you say you are going to do it then you ARE promising to do it".

Well it IS semantics. And semantics count - they shape the meaning which shapes the attitude which shapes the inferences and connotations which dictate the flavour of the entire exchange. Never think that how you make sense of something doesn't count! IT COUNTS FOR EVERYTHING! People think they are describing reality when in fact they are shaping it!

So, make clear agreements that serve by all means, but if you want to be an influential and impactful human being, stay away from those pernicious little promises.