By Daniel Robin
This article takes a deeper look at how having clear and complete agreements
often spells out the difference between success and suffering.
How in the world can we build a workplace based on
well-considered agreements when ...
Co-workers, employees, and customers quickly
knee-jerk into "Yes" or "No" responses before they even know
what's being asked!
Everybody, including you and I, already has way too
much going on.
Some people's "yes" doesn't mean much
(they break their promises hoping nobody will notice), and if you call them on it, they
get immediately defensive.
The Practice of Making Agreements Stick
In our culture, requests are quite often indirect.
"I was hoping you could think about the possibility of maybe someday considering
..." I've found that if I just ask "What is your request?" we both save
lots of time and energy. Most people will appreciate increased directness with the
"what" the goal or reason for asking when you demonstrate a
willingness to be flexible in "how" it will be accomplished.
How do you now make requests? Think about a request
you recently made and jot it down verbatim, noticing which of these elements were actually
Five Element of a Complete Request
(1) Who is doing the asking,
(2) Listener who is being asked,
(3) Action what's the desired
(4) Conditions of Satisfaction
how will you know if it has been done properly?
(5) Timing by when?
All five elements must be understood by the
listener, or you may well be asking for ... trouble. When it matters, I double-check with
"Will you tell me your understanding; I want to make sure I explained it
Responses To Requests
The requestor checks for one of four specific
responses, listed below, and doesnt accept ambiguous responses like "Ill
try", "Maybe ... Ill think about it." or "I guess I could do
that." Instead, a response is either a
Promise A statement that says,
in essence, "Yes, I will do that."
Decline "No, that doesn't
work for me." Also means "Count on me NOT to do that... "
Counteroffer "No, I
wont do that, but heres what I will do..." which opens up a negotiation.
Commit to commit Meaning
"I dont know yet, but Ill get back to you by noon Tuesday."
Note that commit to commit must include the
"by when" or you really don't have a commitment to anything. If they don't know
when they'll know, ask for a counteroffer, ask what they need to decide, or ask someone
If they say "yes" ignoring their concerns
and resistance (or worse, if you ignore it), that will prevent you from being able to
fine-tune your request, or keep you from asking the right person. Draw out
concerns, what's at risk, potential obstacles ... then get a clear commitment one way or
the other. Each response forwards the action in some way, and looking for one (and only
one) of these will clear up ambiguity and prevent assumptions.
Taking the Pulse: Renegotiation
How often do you say and do the same thing? How do
you currently handle it when you're not able to keep an agreement?
If we're suffering from having said "yes"
to too much (or "no" to too little), we'd be wise to renegotiate the agreements
that are currently causing the overload.
When a reasonable agreement is already in place and
difficulty arises, imagine how much misery could be prevented if the promise were
renegotiated in a timely way, while there is still time (hopefully) to do something about
Build it to Last
If we take time up front to carefully consider
responses to requests it saves tremendous time and trouble later. With practice, we can
learn to make clearer, more complete requests of others, and verify their understanding,
thereby building commitments that last.
People will probably squirm like crazy when you
start making more direct requests. That's okay; you might mention that you're trying
something new and would like them to experiment with it. Sometimes discomfort is a
necessary step toward better results and relationships.
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