Getting more agreements

I want my relationships to be full of mutual trust and respect. My teammates do too. So when we heard Steve Chandler’s wisdom on expectations versus agreements, we started on an important mission: fewer expectations and more agreements. 

And you know what? Work is much better now.

Why we want fewer expectations

An expectation is a belief somebody will or should do something.

There’s a lot to dislike about expectations. For one, they rarely have upside. When you expect something from me, there are two predominant outcomes, and both are underwhelming:

Outcome 1: I’ll meet your expectations, and you’ll think, I expected that.

Outcome 2: I’ll fall short of your expectations, and you’ll think, I am disappointed.

Expectations make it hard for us to win and celebrate together, and they allow me to skip the parts where:

  1. I have to be clear with you about what I want.
  2. You get to acknowledge you understand and are open to participating in what I want.
  3. You negotiate your wants with me so we can find common ground and mutual benefit.

With expectations, I get to sit back and hold you accountable for something you might not even know about.

Here are some examples of expectations:

  • Jamie expects his vendors to check in with him twice a month. The vendors don’t know that, but he sure does.
  • Grant thinks his boss should consider him for a raise. He’s waiting for his boss to come to the same conclusion.
  • Noelle manages Bob and expects him to call her if he is going to be late. Noelle thinks this is a basic procedure Bob should be aware of.

Scenarios like these are ripe for distress and resentment. Luckily for us, there’s a better way.

Why we want more agreements

An agreement is a negotiated arrangement between people that defines a course of action and each person’s responsibility within it.

Agreements have upside for the both of us. When you and I agree on something, we replace soul-sucking assumptions with life-giving cooperation. Agreements help us clarify our relationship so we both understand what we’re after and how we’ll get there. They take what could otherwise be left to presumption and help us make it explicit through communication. When we make agreements, we demonstrate respect and care for one another and set ourselves up for success everyone can celebrate.

Here are some examples of agreements:

  • Jamie expects his vendors to check in with him twice a month, so he asks each vendor if they can accommodate his request. They all agree.
  • Grant asks his boss if she’d be open to discussing his compensation. She says, “Of course.” They schedule the meeting.
  • Noelle asks Bob, “Hey, can you agree to call me if you’re running late, and I’ll do the same for you if I’m running late?” Bob says, “You got it!”

Agreements allow us to hold one another accountable in a way that is fair. If Bob shows up late again without calling, Noelle has common ground to stand on when she feels agitated. She can pull Bob aside and say, “You agreed to call me when you were running late. I am frustrated you didn’t do that today. I value communication. What happened?”

Whether you’re a manager or not, having common ground to stand on is a valuable aspect of agreements. If you want to learn more, there’s a whole chapter on this topic in my book and in our video series.

I welcome your thoughts. And as an FYI, these notes will be sporadic over the upcoming holidays, so if you see fewer of them, that’s why. Thank you!


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