I think of Laws and Principles as universal truths that
are very difficult to refute or disprove. The Law
of Agreement, and the Principles of Agreement,
is the foundational truths on which collaboration is based.
Like gravity, they are simple and obvious truisms that
although usually unspoken, are always present. The challenge
is to stay mindful of them, and to live by them. It’s
very important to remember that although the Law and Principles
are simple to understand, they are not always easy to
LAW of AGREEMENT
EVERY COLLABORATION IS ESTABLISHED IN LANGUAGE
BY MAKING IMPLICIT (TALKING TO YOURSELF ABOUT WHAT
YOU THINK THE AGREEMENT IS) AND EXPLICIT (DISCUSSING
THE AGREEMENT WITH OTHERS) AGREEMENTS
When we work with someone, take a job with a large
organization, get married, buy someone’s product,
or go out for the evening with a friend, it involves
coordinating with him or her. Sometimes we craft long
and detailed agreements with other people, such as professional
sports contracts, business partnerships or executive
compensation agreements. People hire high powered lawyers
to conjure up all the things that might go wrong, and
all the contingencies the future might bring. They do
their best to protect us from the “what ifs”
– what if this goes wrong, or what if that goes
wrong. They try to make explicit all that they know.
Unfortunately, what often happens in the name of protection
is that they foster an adversarial relationship. That
is the opposite of what a new venture needs.
1. THE SOURCE OF PRODUCTIVITY AND FULFILLMENT IN
AND PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS IS EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION.
THE MORE SEAMLESS THE COLLABORATION, THE STRONGER
When you look at your life, and the culture you live
in, evidence abounds of this truth. You can’t
have an organization without the collaborative efforts
of many. The arts of management and leadership are about
marshalling and coordinating others’ efforts.
It is like conducting a great symphony. This is also
true for marriages, friendships, and families. In any
collaboration, effective end results flow from tight
coordination that produces high levels of synergy.
Think of the importance of effective coordination
between yourself and a spouse in a highly functional
marriage. Imagine that same level of collaboration in
a business partnership, work team, department, or branch
of an organization. When you have effective coordination
you can feel the quadratic expansion of productivity.
This is called synergy. It is dependent on the clarity
of developing a shared vision and agreements we have
2. WE WORK AND LIVE IN A “SEA” (CONTEXT)
You can view your life as a series of agreements.
As you go through your day try viewing your life through
the “lens of agreement.” From the moment
you wake up to the moment you go to sleep your life
is governed by the set of expectations you have as a
result of the explicit and implicit agreements between
you and others. You have agreements with all of the
3. WE NEVER LEARNED THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF AN
Although it is hard to believe because collaboration
is such a fundamental life skill, our early schooling
did not include a course in effective collaboration.
We never learned how to construct an effective agreement.
The only way most of us get better at expressing agreements
is because we suffered in the past because one of our
agreements was insufficient. This makes us cautious,
and sometimes mistrustful, about future collaborations,
so we try to get clarity around the things that caused
us trouble in the past. Unfortunately, unless we shift
our way of thinking as result of our learning or experience,
we just get more paranoid and protective as time goes
4. CLEAR AGREEMENTS ARE EMPOWERING. THEY EXPRESS
A SHARED VISION, AND A ROAD MAP TO DESIRED RESULTS.
When an agreement incorporates the needs, desires
and vision that each of the people involved is concerned
about, you have the opportunity to express a powerful
shared vision for the project. What is this collaboration
about? What is the detailed picture of the result that
will make everyone pleased with the outcome? It’s
not about you OR me; it’s about you AND me! A
clear agreement provides a road map to that vision.
It details what everyone promises to do to achieve the
desired result. The agreement functions to manage the
“project,” as a map that empowers and enrolls
everyone in producing the joint vision. Think of the
joint vision as a composite of everyone’s individual
vision – the vision is a “ them AND me,”
not a “them OR me.”
5. CLEAR AGREEMENTS IMPROVE THE CHANCES FOR SATISFACTION.
THEY SET UP THE CONDITIONS THAT PRODUCE DELIGHTED
CLIENTS, CUSTOMERS, TEAMMATES, COLLEAGUES, VENDORS
AND FAMILY MEMBERS.
A huge amount of the suffering in this world takes
place because of unclear, unarticulated implicit agreements.
In unclear situations people don’t know what to
do because they don’t know the results expected
of them, and what they can expect of others. This causes
fear and anxiety. If we took the time at the beginning
to express exactly where we were headed, and the route
of travel, everyone could rest confidently knowing the
value they were expected to deliver, and that the value
that others would deliver would take care of their needs.
Everyone would know exactly what to do to fulfill their
responsibilities for producing the desired end result.
Can you recall the Quaker State motor oil commercial
“You can pay me now and have your oil changed,
or you can pay me much more later for costly engine
repairs!” It’s the same way with agreements
- you can take the time at the beginning and prevent
the potential of a costly hassle later on. It is that
simple! And, it is hard work to change life long thinking
and behavioral habits.
6. PRACTICE ENABLES YOU TO CRAFT MASTERFUL AGREEMENTS.
Working with any new model is challenging. Most of
us want instant success. We want to take up skiing,
and head right for the expert slopes. We want to quickly
master that new software program. We need some patience.
Within a short time the agreement template becomes internalized,
and you have a framework for life. After a while you
will be making sure that you have effective agreements
in place for all of the important aspects of your life.
You will be getting good at it, and it will become easy!
Be patient, allow yourself to step into “beginner’s
mind.” Let time and experience be your teacher.
You will become artful with the use of the template.
Obviously, not every situation requires an explicit
agreement, and, not every situation requires the “religion”
of a 10 element agreement. But, you must start with
making the basics an internalized habit.
7. COLLABORATION AND AGREEMENT FOR RESULTS IS SIMPLE,
BUT IT IS NOT EASY. IT REQUIRES THOUGHTFULLNESS AND
CLEAR THINKING ON THE FRONT END, BEFORE YOU MOVE INTO
ACTION, AND A COMMITMENT TO GET THROUGH CONFLICTS
Periodically a state legislator will propose a law
requiring more than a pulse and a blood test as requirements
for a marriage license. Principle 7 makes a similar
suggestion. It is a reminder that doing something effectively
with another person is not easy, and can become especially
difficult if you don’t pay attention to the details
on the front end. Just as important – don’t
be surprised when you begin, and conflicts you either
did not anticipate, or thought were resolved, come up.
8. NO MATTER HOW CLEAR AND COMPLETE THE AGREEMENT,
EVERYTHING WILL NOT BE ADDRESSED – CONFLICTS
AND DIFFERENCES WILL ARISE THAT YOU MUST BE PREPARED
No matter how much time you spend, no matter how perfect
the attempt, you will
revisit things you did not think about, and circumstances
you did not foresee. We can reduce conflict, we cannot
eliminate it! It is important to remember that being
“in the process of moving toward clear agreement”
is where we spend most of our time, not at that place
of perfect agreement. The goal is to “normalize”
The following metaphor illustrates the importance
of being OK about the constantly evolving process of
moving toward resolution and agreement. I was recently
told that when you fly from New York to San Francisco
the plane is “dead on course” about 5% of
the time. The remainder of the time the pilot is making
constant course corrections. That’s the way it
is. Learn to enjoy being in process. That’s where
we spend most of life. This is why an essential element
of every agreement is a process for resolving inevitable
The critical thing that gets you through the rough
spot in any relationship is getting to the place where
you not only have a meeting of the minds, but you also
have the trust that embodies a meeting of the hearts.
The quality of the dialogue about the ten essential
elements of any agreement is designed to forge that
meeting of the hearts.
9. BREAKDOWNS ARE NOT A CAUSE FOR ALARM, THEY ARE
A TO BE
EXPECTED OPPORTUNITY FOR CREATIVITY.
Conflict and resolution are part of the same cycle.
Like republicans then democrats, and the Dow going up
and then down, breakdowns (a stop in the action moving
toward desired outcomes) are a blessing. They provide
the opportunity to look at the situation with fresh
eyes. From the current perspective you have the luxury
of more up to date information from which to act. It
is critical to hold the context as one of on-going learning
as you work with someone or a group. When things go
wrong it’s not time to blame, find fault, prove
you right or prove them wrong. It’s time to learn
about what happened so you can fix the difficulty and
improve the entire process for the next time you begin.
10. RESOLVING CONFLICTS LEADS TO NEW AGREEMENTS.
Although we don’t think about it from this perspective,
the end result of any conflict resolution process is
a new agreement determining what the relationship will
be in the future. This has two important implications:
- By taking time at the beginning of new personal
and professional relationships (marriages, teams,
joint ventures, employment contracts), we can prevent
a great deal of suffering and conflict; and
- When conflict arises the best place to devote energy
is to look to the future, and the desired results,
and ask what must happen to get there. That will guide
you to a new agreement. It is only useful to look
at past behavior to improve the future, not to affix
Stewart Levine, Esq., is a consultant,
trainer, mediator and facilitator. He is the author
of the award winning “Getting to Resolution: Turning
Conflict Into Collaboration” and the recently
released “Book of Agreement” that has been
called “more practical than Getting to Yes.”