The ability to make and manage agreements is a cornerstone of satisfying relationships. And dealing with agreements is a ripe breeding ground for conflicts to arise. It can be dang hard to get to an agreement and sometimes even harder to get people to honor what they have agreed to.
What makes it such a challenging area? Well, People often agree to things for all sorts of reasons other than authentically agreeing. Sometimes we are just tired of having the conversation, so we acquiesce. Or maybe we think we should agree; a person better than ourselves, or the person we want to be would agree. Maybe we feel like there isn’t another choice – we don’t like this arrangement, but it’s the best thing going, so we might as well agree. Maybe we have been coerced, shamed, convinced or bullied into agreeing. Maybe it sounded good at the time, or maybe it was good at the time, but times a be a changing, and it doesn’t sound so good any more. Maybe we don’t like to rock the boat and we just want to be easy going and get along, or maybe we didn’t really understand what we were agreeing to in the first place. Maybe we truly want to abide by our agreement, but somehow we just don’t have what is required of us to do so.
There are endless reasons we might make an agreement we can’t, or choose not to, keep. I even make agreements with myself I can’t keep. “No more potato chips!” – They make me feel sick, but mere minutes later, munch, munch, munch. “No rubbing my eyes in allergy season!” – It only makes them worse, seconds later ahhhh…, rub, rub, rub. Sometimes our intentions are pure and it’s the follow through that gets us, and sometimes we agree to things we have absolutely no intention of abiding by. And most often it’s somewhere in between. There may have been a misunderstanding as to the terms of the agreement. There may have been a miscommunication as to each party’s intentions. There may have been a misrepresentation, intentional or not.
So, if making and managing agreements is so important, and people often agree to things and then don’t stick by their commitments, what are we to do? First of all, make sure there actually was a mutual agreement. And if there was an actual agreement, find out exactly what each person thought they were agreeing to.
When making agreements: Select a comfortable time and place to have a collaborative conversation. Negotiate the terms. Pay attention to each other’s interests and listen with all your senses. Think about your history together, and be specific in what you agree to.
When managing your agreements: Check in from time to time and see how things are going. Investigate what transpired when an agreement gets broken – find out what got in the way of it being kept. Share the power, much stronger agreements are made when there is a power balance. Be open to hearing alternate points of view. And, don’t think the conversation ends here. The situation may just be settled for the time being. Make short time lines. Remember to continue to check in and see how things are going. Revisit and renegotiate, if circumstances or interests have change.