One of the complaints I often hear in companies sounds like this: “So-and-so does not respond to my emails.” My question back is, “What is your agreement with So-and-so about responding to emails?” Invariably I’m told that there is no actual agreement in place.
As much as one might assume that people should respond to emails in a timely manner, that doesn’t mean that they will…unless there is an agreement in place. If not, then your options are to complain, hope the person gets the hint, nag him or try to work around the unworkable situation.
The simple fact is, agreements up front can solve problems before they arise and make interacting with others a lot easier.
Why don’t we make agreements?
Because it seems like too much trouble
Because it’s easier to just complain and feel like a victim
Because we don’t know what to do when an agreement is broken, so why bother making one
As an alternative to complaining or feeling victimized, try this experiment:
Think about something that’s keeping you from your goals. Ask the person(s) involved if he will make an agreement with you that will help you reach your goals.
3 Steps to Making Agreements
Note: These steps work with both teams and individuals.
1. Figure out what agreements you want.
• Propose an agreement such as, “Let’s agree to respond to emails from each other within 24 hours.”
• If your partner says okay, write the agreement down.
• If he says no, then negotiate. For example, “Okay then, let’s say that within 24 hours we will respond even if it’s to say, ‘I’m really busy now, but will answer you soon.’”
• Keep making agreements with him until the two of you can’t think of any more.
2. When the list is done, send it to him so you both have a copy.
• You want the agreements in writing so you can refer to them and change them as necessary as time goes on. Agreements are not written in stone.
3. If one of you breaks an agreement, the other one needs to “call it” as soon as possible.
“You haven’t answered my email from 2 days ago. We agreed to answer within 24 hours. Do we need to change our agreement?”
It is well worth the effort to set up agreements. So much time is wasted in the drama of being upset about someone else’s behavior. Imagine your life being focused on how well you keep your agreements and hold others to theirs, rather than on wondering why people won’t stop doing things that drive you crazy.
Make agreements and you will notice that your life just works better.
Life works to the degree that you keep your agreements.
-- Werner Erhard
For over 20 years Susan has been a coach, consultant and corporate trainer. She is the co-founder of the Coach Group of Switzerland.