By Bryan Orr

We have all been there at one time or another — sitting at a table or desk across from someone who is going on and on about what they “want” and what they “need,” and the meeting ends with you walking out never agreeing to anything. Inevitably, three days later your phone rings with this same person asking you “Why isn’t it done yet?” totally oblivious to the fact that you never agreed to any of their wants and needs.

We all experience how annoying it can be when others assume things or take us for granted or dictate requirements without stopping to breathe or listen.

What is an agreement?

An agreement doesn’t need to be called an agreement, it doesn’t always need to be in writing and it doesn’t always need to be a super formal conversation, Example:

Emily: “Hey Jon, can you take the trash out?”

Jon: “Yes”

This is an agreement because Jon said that he would take out the trash. Here is a better agreement:

Emily: “Hey Jon, will you take the trash out before you go to bed tonight?”

Jon: ***sigh***, “Yes.”

In the first agreement, there was no agreement as to WHEN Jon would take the trash out. Adding details like a timeframe will both add mental reminders, but also add immediacy and weight to the agreement.

When should it be in writing?

First, let’s establish that some of the most powerful agreements are made outside of writing. When you finally find that special someone and you look deep into their eyes and ask “Will you trade your Barry Sanders card for two of my Emmitt Smith cards” and they agree. Pure magic.

But seriously, you know it’s time to pull out the pen or typewriter or laptop whenever there is a lot at stake or when the agreement is complex. A written agreement is not necessarily a contract; it is meant to be fully read and understood. It is about being very clear about what is being agreed on, so throw out the annoying small print.

The Secret Power

The true, transformational power of agreements is not in holding people to their agreements. The secret power is what happens INSIDE the other person when they know beyond all reasonable doubt that they agreed to something. The other person is forced to consider what you are saying and provide a firm answer, either yes, no, or else adjust some details and then answer.

Again, the goal of an agreement is to get the other person to commit to the agreement. If there is question about whether the agreement will be fulfilled, go back to the other person’s commitment. Reaffirm that they intend to make good on their word and fulfill what they agreed to.

Use a question like, “You agreed to do this. Do you still intend to do what you said?”

Take a moment today to practice the power of agreements today. Start with something simple and maybe bring it home to a child or spouse…and if you have a super smart dog, test it on him.

Using explicit agreement can result in far less friction by making your expectations clear both to you and to others. Be clear and avoid taking a tone of superiority.

What is one agreement you will make with another person today?