One of the things I both love and dread about my small faith community is that we agree to be held accountable for doing what we say we will do.
For instance, if we promise to pray for someone – or visit a sick person or repay a loan — we will do it. And to strengthen our resolve, we give others in the group permission to ask if we kept our promise.
Classic examples of accountability are child/parent, student/teacher, or employee/boss. You are given a task, and you report when it has been done. You may be evaluated on the results.
But these are relationships where one has power over the other. How can accountability work in more egalitarian relationships: married couples, business partners, adult siblings? Volunteer organizations?
It’s not easy to be held accountable, especially if you’ve dropped the ball. You may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or defensive. Or all three. It can be equally uncomfortable on the other end: how do you hold someone accountable without sounding judgmental? Without damaging your relationship? It may be especially tough for adult siblings and adult parent-child interactions.
Some random suggestions:
1. Focus on what the person herself promised to do – not a task someone imposed on her. Your attitude is one of support – not criticism.
2. State the promise, then ask a question. “Mom, you were going to make an appointment with a dermatologist. Maybe I can give you a ride. When is your appointment?”
3. If the promise affects you personally, you might say something like, “John, you promised to start paying me back last Friday. I didn’t get anything. I was counting on that money. Is something wrong?”
4. If the promise affects the larger family, you might say something like, “Mary, you were going to check out three assisted living possibilities. Have you been able to do it yet?” If she says no, you might follow up. “When do you think you’ll have time?” Or “It sounds like you might not have time. Is there another task that might work better for you?”
Remember, the purpose of accountability between peers is to support the promise-maker’s own good intention and strengthen his or her capacity to achieve the goal.
Please help us by sharing your thoughts and experiences with accountability.