Many of the executives and companies I work with find the Conscious Leadership concept of “clean agreements” to be one of the most transformative principles.
The idea is that, as a matter of developing integrity and trust in your relationships, Conscious Leaders work to create and honor impeccable agreements.
If you have been wondering why no one ever keeps their agreements with you, it’s likely that you make lousy agreements, hereafter known as not agreements.
There’s a lot to like about living without agreements — you don’t have to do very much that you say you will, and you don’t expose yourself to disappointment when others don’t do what they say they will do.
I hit the concept of clean agreements head-on in my work with companies and at Leadership Camp. I often raise the issue in the context of attempting to make an agreement about how session participants will treat technology during our time together.
First, I teach the criteria for making a “clean agreement.”A clean agreement requires:
In addition to this triptych, clean agreements have these features:
Here’s a handy visual checklist for these criteria of clean agreements:
Normally in sessions I facilitate, I first give an order: that all phones and notification devices are turned to silent inside the room. This is not negotiable for me because it allows other people to enjoy an uninterrupted experience. I then request an agreement with as many people as will make it with me: I ask that all communication devices be set in a position and in a location where silent notifications (vibration) will not be noticeable to the person who owns the device or to anyone around them (through a visual indication on a device).
I invite people to check whether they have a full-body yes to this request. I am authentically open to no’s. This is important in engendering authentic consent. I typically get about 90% consent to my agreement. Sometimes one of the people who doesn’t agree comes up to explain why — e.g. sick kid, parent in hospital. When I hear these rationales, I simply say that I’m fine with a yes or a no, and that I honor the fact that we’ve arrived at a clear and reasonable place of non-agreement.
After my initial order, I typically typically ask if anyone else has a request for an agreement with the group. The other day, someone had a request: “If anyone is about to say something that might be a trigger, they give a ‘trigger warning’.”
I thought about this quickly and realized that this request wasn’t specific enough for me regarding the “what.” I wasn’t sure what I was being asked to agree to, and that’s a recipe for a lousy (or non-) agreement. This specific request was even trickier in a way that really shows how many sloppy agreements are created; It was the kind of agreement I and likely others in the room wanted to make right away. It sounded important to the requester, there was some emotion around the request, and it’s the kind of thing one should agree to. Right?
Although we often say “yes” to agreements from a place of obligation or a wish to help, these types of motivation commonly lead to messy agreements. When we make agreements from these motivations, we frequently skip over clarity on the “who,” “what,” and “by when.” In addition, we often overlook whether or not we have authentic consent. A “yes” from obligation or peer pressure typically is not a full-body yes.
In order to ensure I could decide if I wanted to and was capable of making this agreement, I dove in with clarifying questions. I asked the requester what they were specifically asking us to do. What kinds of topics would be triggering for this person? The person sat with that question and listed several examples including sexual abuse, eating disorders, and other violence. Through my questions, which were grounded in curiosity — a desire to get to an excellent agreement that would serve this person and the group — the requester kept checking in with their desires and preferences. They eventually concluded that they only wanted a warning in the event someone was about to speak of sexual abuse. I asked them what exactly they wanted to happen in the event someone was about to raise that topic. They said they wanted other participants to say “I’m about to speak about sexual assault” so the requester could leave the room for a few minutes.
The requester asked who was willing to make this agreement. Everyone said yes, and we were off.
We had learned the criteria for a clean agreement and made two quality agreements in the span of about 15 minutes. Think about that efficiency at your company (or in your family) and think about all the hours of frustration and disappointment that might be avoided with an intentional setting of a new impeccable agreement.
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