“I owe you” – a key to fulfilling obligations

Are you a promise-keeper? Do you follow up when you say you will, produce the work you committed to creating, do the task you volunteered to undertake?

I like to think I keep my word.

There are all sorts and levels of commitment. Generally, we wouldn’t equate a promise of faithfulness in marriage to a promise to complete a project for work. The commitments are on very different levels of importance, and life arenas.

Yet in each circumstance, you’ve given your word, you’ve promised to deliver. You owe the other person something.

In a marriage, you owe your spouse loyalty, fidelity, partnership, and a host of other things, because you gave your promise.

In the workplace, in a paid position, or even in a volunteer role, you’ve given your promise to produce: whatever your job entails, you committed to being there, to creating something. To doing.

A woman I once worked with acknowledged her office obligations by listing them off at the end of a meeting, or even a simple exchange, and saying, “I owe you…”

The message was clear: she considered herself personally obligated to provide the answers, complete the tasks, or bring whatever she had offered to the next meeting, or to the individual personally.

She “owed” something.

At first this seemed a little strange to me. I tend to think of owing as “debt.” I hadn’t associated that concept with personal commitments or work obligations.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized, it really does fit. I’ve promised to deliver, and in that context, I “owe.”

When I think of it like that, my promise to my spouse or to clients isn’t just language. My promises bind me to produce the things I say I will produce, to fulfill the commitments of partnership or relationship. To do my part. To come through.

It’s subtle, and maybe it seems redundant that viewing a commitment as something I owe would be a powerful incentive to deliver.

Maybe it has to do with the idea that I pay what I owe, that I come through, that I honor my commitments.

Powerful language can trigger all sorts of responses. Some prefer to see their work or commitments as choice, motivated by desire and loyalty, rather than obligation.

I see the thread of both motives, in personal and business relationships. This perspective isn’t an attempt to reduce relationships to bartering or to an exchange of any sort.  It’s just an acknowledgement of the reality: promises produce obligations. Often, so much emphasis is placed on the emotional component of relationships, or the satisfaction we get from work, it’s easy to downplay the other side of the equation.

Think about it. What do you owe? To whom do you owe?

Are you a promise-keeper?



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