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What follows is a blog post about the importance of beginning new collaborations with clear agreements:
We don’t think about the web of agreements making up our lives until we think that a collaborator has violated an explicit or implicit agreement that we believed we had. Then the voice of our internal chatter gets louder. You would think that the skill of crafting clear agreements, because it is so basic to successful living, would be an element of our core curriculum, installed during our early educational process as part of our basic operating system. Unfortunately, we usually learn through suffering, when we realize we do not know what goes into an effective agreement.
At the outset of a transaction or relationship, it is important to be clear and detailed about where you are heading. Recently I asked Mark, a senior manager at Visa, to share his greatest challenge. He told me that he often observed people moving into action before they knew where they were going. He wanted people to be clear about their destination before they moved into action, otherwise they end up in places where they do not want to be. It’s the difference between “ready, fire, aim” and “ready, aim, fire!” In terms of the model of resolution, this concept is important for two reasons:
Clarity on the front end of a new relationship minimizes conflict; and
The resolution of conflict is a new, clear agreement.
Mark’s concerns are best illustrated in the classic story of the “Abilene Paradox.” Here’s a brief version.
Six people were sitting on a porch one hot August night about 100 miles from Abilene, Texas. The temperature was 99°, and so was the humidity. Suddenly they piled into a sedan without air-conditioning, heading for Abilene. They were driving over unpaved roads, to buy ice-cream, to cool them off. As they traveled through the soupy weather, road-dust wafted into the vehicle, coating their skin. They began sweating and became increasingly uncomfortable. Each wondered “whose dumb idea was it to go to Abilene.”
The trip back provided little relief. They became more agitated as they returned home. The internal din of “Whose dumb idea was it?” increased to a roar as they sweated and the ice-cream melted, adding stickiness to the coat of dust. When they arrived home they piled out of the vehicle as quickly as they had piled in. Immediately they started finger pointing. As they quieted down, they all realized that no one had wanted to go. They each had gone along for the ride, thinking it was a dumb idea but not wanting to say so.
How many trips to Abilene have you taken? Creating an effective agreement at the beginning of a relationship will save you many uncomfortable miles…or as they said in the old Fram Oil Filter commercials, “You can pay me now or pay me later!”