What Agreement?

October 12th, 2017

I notice when I’m in meetings and working with others, that getting a clear agreement from someone is like trying to catch a fish in the water with my bare hands:  it’s very slippery.  For example, I hear statements like these:

I’ll try to……

Let me get back to you on this……

Let’s talk again….

And my favorite, I’ll see what I can do….

All of these statements are general, vague and lack clarity.  Why is it so difficult to be clear?

My personal opinion is that most people don’t want to be blamed or ‘held accountable’ for not meeting agreements, so they don’t make them in the first place.  We spend lots of time blaming each other for problems in organizations.  The question “Who’s accountable for this?” often is interpreted as “Who’s going to get blamed?”  The result is that we unconsciously keep things ‘slippery’ and vague to avoid being caught or blamed.

Think about how productive we would be and how much trust we would create if we consistently made and kept clear agreements.  Although it’s not easy, it’s not difficult either.  Here’s how we solve the problem:

  1. Clarity wins every time. If agreements are clear, then we know:

What is being done

Who is doing it

And when it is to be done

If you don’t have all three covered, you don’t have clarity.  If that is the case, be clear and confirm with the other party that you do not have an agreement yet.

  1. Plan for the unplanned. If the agreement cannot be kept (let’s face it – things do happen…) what is the expectation for communicating?  When should I let someone know I need to renegotiate the deadline?  Be specific. “I’ll let you know if anything changes” is not specific; “I need until ____” is.
  2. Keep your own agreements. We all want others to keep their agreements, because it’s frustrating when they don’t.  However, when you look in the mirror, the bigger question is “How good am I at keeping my own personal agreements?”  Actions always speak louder than words.  My own personal behavior drives my results.
  3. There is only one way to know if you are clear with an agreement you’ve made: ask the other party what their understanding is.  If it is repeated back exactly as you understand it, then it is clear.  If not, you have a responsibility to correct it.
  4. Finally, keep a running list of agreements you make or receive and manage it daily.

Write down all the agreements you make or receive for one week and see the difference it makes.


Donna Flynn has spent most of her career in the financial services industry, both as an executive coach, and also in leadership and management positions. She is the President of SkillsMastery Group, Inc., an executive coaching and management consulting firm in Chicago. SkillsMastery Group has partnered with BankTalentHQ to provide career, management and leadership coaching to its members. For more information, please contact dflynn@skillsmastery.com.