Up for negotiation

In a world where much of our time is spent in relationships with other people, our ability to negotiate agreements is an important and valuable skill to have. To rub along together, we agree to things all the time – we cannot fail to make agreements. Whilst you might want to disagree with this statement, I think it is important to point out that I am not only referring to explicit verbal agreements, but also to implicit agreements, where consent or refusal is taken based on our behavioural response.

The problem with implicit agreements is that – the way in which we behave, is not always based upon clearly thought through strategies, but rather our historical habit-ridden way of approaching the world. This means, that through our behaviour, we can appear to “agree” with something, and we only later, wonder how on earth we got into that situation. With this in mind, it makes sense that as far as possible, we fully account for the agreements we make with others – and make them as explicit as possible.

For example – let’s take a hypothetical organisation – that often has meetings that seem to involve a lot of talking about things, but doesn’t result in any purposeful action. Here there is an implicit agreement that people will meet, but won’t actually do anything. Eventually someone decides to produce an agenda so at least there is some focus for the discussion. Yet still nothing happens! So it is then agreed that actions will be identified at the end of each meeting. Guess what? Still nothing changes!! I am sure you can see where this is going. People need to be assigned to complete these actions, within certain timescales, and then actions need to be reviewed at each subsequent meeting.  The result being that this organisation moves from an implicit agreement, of nothing being done, to an explicit agreement about actions and when they will be completed.

This example may seem a bit farfetched to some of you. However, many people who have spent time in work meetings will recognise, at least in part, this sort of scenario. But what of other scenarios? How explicit are your agreements in other areas of your life – with colleagues – with friends – with your partner? When I work with couples, much of the work is about facilitating communication and making implicit agreements, explicit.

Making agreements explicit though, is not the end of the story. Whilst it helps, it does not guarantee you getting what you agreed. We can still trip ourselves up. So here are some things (adapted from Steiner, 1972) to look out for:

  • Mutuality – both parties feel that they are willing to be involved in the agreement. A mumbled “yes” with no eye contact is very different from a firm “Yes!” whilst you look another in the eye.
  • Exchange – both parties are getting something of value (to them) from the agreement. If you, or the other person, feel in the one down position – this does not bode well for a successful outcome of this agreement, or future agreements.
  • Ability – both parties have the ability to deliver their part of the agreement to the standards expected. It is worth taking the time to check out that you are both “singing from the same hymn sheet,” when it comes to what you are expecting.

Finally, I think it important to remember, that whilst agreement help us get along together – life still goes on. Things occur in our everyday live that impact upon our agreements. Rather than using this as an excuse not to make agreements – I would suggest that you take this into account – keep your agreements flexible, and attend to them when they require changing. Happy negotiating!

by Leilani Mitchell

These are my random ramblings today; tomorrow I might change my mind.

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