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Exceeding Promises

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A lot of people, especially in business, believe it’s best to under-promise and over-deliver. But maybe that’s not exactly right. Research out of the University of California suggests that whether we’re talking about a person or a company, we place such a high premium on keeping a promise that exceeding it confers little or no additional benefit.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments including one where promise-makers agreed to help promise-receivers solve 10 of 40 puzzles. The promise-makers were then instructed to solve either the 10 puzzles as promised, only 5, or 15.

Although exceeding the promise by solving more puzzles clearly required more effort, the promise-receivers did not value that extra work any more than just keeping to the 10 puzzles promised. The researchers were surprised because they had expected an increase in gratitude and appreciation.

This may be because when you keep a promise, in addition to doing something nice, you also fulfill a social contract and show that you’re a reliable and trustworthy person.

The bottom line, according to the study in Social Psychological and personality Science, is that exceeding a promise may not be worth the effort. The takeaway: put your energy into keeping promises, and don’t be upset if friends, family or clients, fail to appreciate your extra effort when you go above and beyond.

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