Three Ways to Gain Understanding and Agreement

“Leslie” is having a problem with her team. She has been in business for several years and many of her people have been with her since the beginning. She is frustrated. Her people are not doing what she expects. They are not cleaning their stations, folding towels or even answering the phone.

When asked, “What do they say when you tell them what you expect?” She answers, that she really hasn’t. “They should know, after all they are professionals”. This is perhaps where the phrase, “expectations are premeditated resentments”, comes from.

A different approach would be to enter a conversation and explicitly name the expectations and ask for agreement. There is a distinction here. An agreement is a commitment on both sides. Expectations can be one way. By asking for agreement on folding towels, answering the phones and so on, she invites them into the relationship. When they commit it is of their will not the will of the “boss”.

Part of reaching that agreement may be negotiations. For example, Jennifer may be willing to fold towels in the morning when she is not so busy. But in the afternoon that is when most of her customers arrive. Or it may be that everyone agrees that answering the phone is a rotating duty every hour, so that everyone helps.

Contrast this with the relationship and agreements reached with “Scott”. Scott was a very demanding client. He knew what he wanted, but he did not articulate it very clearly until he noticed a misstep. We almost lost our contract with Scott several times due to what we thought we were supposed to be doing and what Scott expected.

We finally sat down and reached “agreement”, on what the key success factors were. We then agreed on desired state, acceptable state and non-acceptable state. Then we agreed that we would hold both parties to these metrics to determine how successful the relationship was. And I am happy to report that relationship thrived until Scott moved on and a new manager wanted her team in.

We often make the mistake that because we’ve been in a relationship (personal or professional) for a long time, the other should know what we mean. Or that we always know what they mean. Out language is a remarkable tool and it can also be less than precise. So slowing down to ensure understanding and then reaching “agreement” can alleviate a lot of pain and suffering. Here are three things you can do:

  1. Slow down before making a request or demand. Make sure you are clear in your “ask”.
  2. When listening make sure you understand their “ask”. Their compelling message might be different than yours.
  3. Once you both are clear reach an agreement that both parties can commit to.


John guides individuals and organizations to performance, productivity and profits by leveraging the communication they have with each other and themselves. You can reach [email protected]

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