Create Clear Agreements

Create agreements with integrity and then verify them. Re-negotiate as needed.

Clear agreements are at the heart of successful human relationships. They bind us together for better and worse. How you handle your agreements will build or erode trust and integrity. To ensure that these cornerstones of relationship are well cared for, agreements need to be clear.

When agreements have integrity, they have the power to hold people accountable to their commitments. The agreement acts as glue to bring the participants back to common ground. This is most obvious with formal contracts but the same process operates with ones that are informal.

For any agreement to have integrity, it needs to be formed in good faith and without coercion. If you don’t plan to keep a commitment or aren’t sure you can, then you haven’t negotiated in good faith.

Agreements can’t serve a clear purpose if they are murky. A muddled agreement can be worse than none, since they can lead not only to misunderstandings but also to feelings of betrayal. Expectations and assumptions that are unspoken, unclear or unverified are a huge source of needless conflict and confusion in relationships.

Simone struggled with a serious misunderstanding with her cubicle partner, Trish. They shared several joint projects but much of their work was accomplished independently. They never negotiated an agreement regarding viewing each other’s individual files, when those files were related to joint projects. After several months of working together, Simone found out that Trish had been reviewing her files and in some cases editing them. She felt violated and furious. Trish was stunned at Simone’s anger and also felt hurt and unappreciated for her efforts. Trish had assumed that all their files relating to joint projects were in effect, shared and open. This misunderstanding created a rupture in their relationship that took a long time to heal. While both of them could have handled it better emotionally, the breach could have been prevented.

After you think you have an agreement with someone, try verifying it with that person to make sure you are in sync. Often this process of verification brings to light hidden expectations that could create problems if they aren’t sorted out in advance.

If an agreement was negotiated in good faith and it isn’t working, it may be because some basic aspect of your relationship has changed. It is usually better to re-define your purpose together and re-negotiate your agreement than to have the agreement erode and lead to loss of integrity.

Action Steps

1. Think of two or three important agreements in your life. Do they need to be clarified or updated?

2. Reflect on the last time you had a misunderstanding regarding an agreement. Was there anything you could have done to prevent the misunderstanding?

3. When an agreement has gotten off track, have you ever reminded the other person of their commitment? How did that work out?

4. Has anyone ever reminded you of your commitment or agreement? How did you feel about that?

Important agreements, both at work and at home, are often complex and highly charged. If you aren’t sure how to navigate this territory, so that both your interests and those of others are fully considered, take a step back to re-evaluate what you are promising. This may be a time to consider personal or career coaching, so you don’t needlessly limit yourself. If you are involved in some dispute and need assistance with conflict resolution, contact Barbara to discuss options.


Barbara Bouchet
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