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What to do when agreements are broken


You’ve put your point of view. You think you’ve got agreement. But then things fall apart. People don’t do what you expected them to do.
You are frustrated. More than that: you’re angry.

But before you go in mob-handed, take a step back and ask yourself some reflective questions.

A different perspective

The nature of the agreement may have been crystal clear in your mind – but do you know what was going on in the minds of other people?
At the time, people maybe thought they understood, but when they came to implement it, perhaps they found that:
•    they were not clear what they had agreed to do
•    their interpretation was different from yours
•    there were implications and consequences that they hadn’t been aware of when they made the agreement

The culture

The climate and culture in which people work may lead to people saying ‘Yes, I agree’ and subsequently acting in ways that subvert that apparent agreement. This tends to happen when people:
•    don’t have the confidence to say that they disagree
•    fear the consequences of not agreeing
•    don’t believe that their opinions and input would be listened to
•    are influenced by the apparent consensus of the group – only to find that the consensus quickly crumbles away.

Could this have been happening in your situation?

What you can do in setting up the agreement

Be very clear about what has prompted the need for an agreement. Describe the way you see things and what is important to you.

Nurture the sense that people matter and that it’s not just you making a unilateral decision for which you expect agreement from others

Ask people individually for a response to the decision before you assume that an agreement has been made. Check that people are committed and not just complying  The consequences of not listening to people are that they will experience themselves as not mattering and will undermine the agreement in subtle and not so subtle ways.

If people express reservations about the decisions, avoid trying to persuade them to your point of view. Instead, explore where they are coming from. Listen.  Don’t get attached to your solution. A better decision might emerge from listening to people.

Go for agreement on the underlying importance of the outcomes that you want and recognise that there may be different ways of achieving those outcomes.

Clarify your understanding of other people’s suggestions. If you don’t think those suggestions would work, don’t make disparaging remarks about them or dismiss them out of hand. Instead, clarify your beliefs and predictions about them and continue the search for strategies that everyone can buy in to.

What you can do when agreements get broken

Check inside yourself to:
•    identify any judgments or criticisms you might be holding against about the people who didn’t do as you’d expected.  Translate these thoughts into a recognition of what was really important to you.
•    Discuss with those concerned what it was that got in the way of their not implementing the agreement
•    Explore your perspective as well as theirs and try to find a way forward. If their non-implementation is critical, and they are unable to commit to supporting the agreement, then you might have to part company with them. But this would be done not as punishment but in the spirit of recognising that there are irreconcilable differences between you.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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