Use Your iPhone To Avoid Making Promises You Can’t Keep

Bruce Weinstein ·Nov 21, 2022

As Apple rolls out its latest edition of the iPhone, here’s a novel way of using your current device (Apple or not) to be more ethical.

Let’s focus on how to keep our promises and avoid making promises we’re not prepared to keep.

A disturbing but true story

Years ago I gave a talk to a group of association executives in Quebec City, and a member of the audience—I’ll call her Daniella—approached me after the speech. Daniella asked me to write an article for her prestigious organization’s magazine. I was honored and agreed on the spot to do it.

As the deadline for the piece approached, I found myself overwhelmed by promises I’d made previously. I called Daniella and asked if I could have an extension.

“Can’t do it,” she replied. “This is a firm deadline. I’ll find someone else.”

I blew it! I made a promise with the best of intentions but couldn’t keep it. The worst thing about this troublesome situation is that it was avoidable.

Instead of promising Daniella right away that I’d write an article for her, I should have reviewed my schedule to see if I would have time to take on the project. An honest assessment would have led me to the conclusion that I would not be able to do it, at least not well.

Here’s how you can avoid making the same mistake I did.

Your phone’s secret weapon to help you keep promises

Checking the calendar on your phone is the best preventive measure for helping you avoid making promises you can’t keep. This week—perhaps later today—when someone asks you to do something by a specific date, and you have the freedom to accept or reject it, respond with, “I’d love to! Let me check my calendar, and I’ll get back to you.”

Then, in a quiet moment when you can focus, look at what else you have to do around the deadline you’ve been given. If you can honor those other commitments, you’re good to go.

If not, tell the person, “I can’t do it.” You could see if the deadline could be extended. Either way, you don’t have to apologize. You might even do the opposite. “I wish I could, but I have other promises to keep.”

A benefit

The person you’re turning down may be disappointed by your response, but they’ll also respect you for being someone who cares about keeping their word.

Ignore this at your peril

If you’re tempted to say “yes” in spite of having other deadlines you have to keep, pay attention to the voice in your head telling you, “Don’t do it!”

I’ve noticed that every time I ignore that voice, I regret it. You will too.

What does promise-keeping have to do with ethics?

Using your iPhone to avoid making promises you can’t keep is a form of ethical intelligence. How so?

The ethical issues we often read about are those with high stakes, like corruption, fraud and money laundering. Those are indeed ethical concerns, but so is promise-keeping.

Keeping the promises we make and resisting the temptation to make promises we’re not prepared to keep are two of the most powerful ways we demonstrate respect. The principle Respect Others is one of the five principles of ethical intelligence. (The others are Do No Harm, Make Things Better, Be Fair, and Care, all of which I’ve explored in previous Forbes articles.)

I refer to these as the principles of ethical intelligence because striving to live by them is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do, too.

Call to action

The next time you’re asked to take on a project and you have to freedom to accept it or turn it down:

  1. Express your desire to do it (if that’s true) but say you need to check your calendar.
  2. If you don’t have other commitments that would prevent you from doing a good job with this one, full steam ahead!
  3. If you can’t take on the project without compromising other obligations you have, turn it town.
  4. Listen to the voice in your head telling you, “Don’t do it!”

That phone you carry everywhere can help you avoid making promises you’re not prepared to keep. Why not use it that way?


Thank you for reading my blog!  I hope you're having a good day. Or at least not an awful one. 

Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy®
Forbes Contributor  | Keynote demo  | Phone (424)|  | LinkedIn | Twitter​ 


As The Ethics Guy®, my virtual and in-person keynotes and video training programs help companies promote ethical behavior at every level of the organization. The result is an engaged and satisfied workforce, better clients, and a strategy for long-term financial success. I received a B.A. in philosophy from Swarthmore College, a Ph.D. in philosophy and bioethics from Georgetown University / the Kennedy Institute of Ethics. My books include "Ethical Intelligence," "The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees," and for tweens and teens, "Is It Still Cheating If I Don't Get Caught?" Contact me to check my availability to speak to your group here.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here

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Here are links to my ethics courses on CPD Formula and LearnFormula, all of which will earn you one or two ethics credits. Just scroll down past my bio and you'll see them all. 



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