Crucial Accountability: Broken Promises and Damaged Expectations

  • Whether it’s the long-time friend who’s arrived fashionably late to lunch for the 150th time
  • Or the partner not wanting to do the dishes
  • Or the boss who doesn’t stick to the project timeline and then makes matters worse by blaming your team for the project delay

Any of these circumstances, seemingly trivial, can transform an otherwise well-mannered Dr. Jekell to his alter ego -- the angry Mr. Hyde.

When we feel wronged, mistreated, or offended, there’s a series of thoughts that have brought us to that point.

There’s a pattern at work here.

Let’s call it- The Downward Outburst

We See Something Happen → Tell Ourselves How/Why it Happened → Nasty Narrative Emerges → Righteous Indignation Lights Up → Fire & Fury → Nasty Confrontation → Hurt Feelings → Damaged Relationship

We hurt ourselves by thinking the worst of others. We cling to hurtful half-truths that don’t tell the full story.

At the heart of every relationship that ended poorly is a series of accountability conversations that didn’t go so well.

It can be painful to realize how many times a week or in a month, tiny trivial things blow out of proportion and lead to anger towards another person for a slight inconvenience or offense. Worse, it’s terrible to think of how failed confrontations can end thriving relationships.

On the other hand, if we learn how to hold others accountable, we get meaningful solutions that strengthens the relationship.

Silence or Violence

In many cases, we’ll quickly ask ourselves, can I succeed in this talk? If the answer is no, we won’t bring up what bothers us. We suffer in silence, and the frustration brews until one day-- anger surfaces like a raging active volcano. The recipient of said outburst is taken by surprise and wonders --”Where did that come from?”

Part 1: Work on Me First

Emotions on Display

When our mind is convinced and fixated on a negative belief, it’s clamped down tight, and the feeling won’t change until our thoughts change. You cannot fake an emotion for long. Your emotions will leak out and be felt by the other person.

Master Your Stories

Before you enter a situation, emotionally charged and convinced that you’re right and they’re wrong, it’s key to understand the situation fully--with facts-- rather than assumptions. You must question even the facts you come bearing enthusiastically to support your position, as they may be incomplete, inaccurate, or both.

How do you bring yourself down from a negative emotional cocktail?

Ask yourself: why would a decent, reasonable human being behave in that manner? This question activates our prefrontal cortex; it gets us thinking outside of our self-righteous loop towards a new meaningful thought.

Part 2: Behavior Attribution Model

Our instincts tell us that most people behave from a place of lack of motivation. They simply don’t want to. Their motives are selfish, hence this explains the behavior we observe. This is the only behavior attribution model we know; in actuality, there are many sources of behavior.

Each source of 6 behavior sources from the table above serves as a reference point to a type of question we should ask to “diagnose” the source of the behavior or habit.

As you interact with the person, you can ask questions to sort out if their behavior stems from lack of ability, peer pressure, enabling, tools, systems, processes, rewards, and punishments.

When the problematic behaviors begin to disappear, it is because the root cause is being addressed at a fundamental level.


CPR in this context refers to content, pattern, and relationship. The first time it happens, you focus on the content of what happened. If it repeats itself, then you talk about the pattern. Finally, you can talk about how the pattern affects the relationship. This gradually escalating format helps communicate in proportion to the severity and frequency of the problematic behavior.

To discover the truth about what drives another person’s behavior can stretch our comfort zones, as we resist the urge to stick to the stories we tell ourselves. Yet as they say-- the truth sets us free.

The truth helps us see there are any number of variables at play. When we take the time to look past our knee jerk assumptions, we are able to be understanding, compassionate, and forgiving for we now understand where the person is coming from, and we have a new lens to view both them and the situation.

As we seek to build healthier relationships, it is essential that we resist our natural downward inclinations tell negative stories of what drives the behavior of others so we can gain emotional intelligence, and heal ourselves and others.

To soak up dozens of practical tips for healthy communication, please read: “Crucial Accountability” by Kerry Patterson. I highly recommend the book for all those who want to hold others accountable while also strengthening relationships.