The Power of Horrible Agreements - Blog Post


The Power of Horrible Agreements


I want to start off this post off by letting you in on a secret. This secret is fundamental to working with people who are locked in a disagreement. Here goes: 99% of the time the argument stems from an unclear agreement. Allow me to illustrate with examples:

  1. Tim sells his company to Robert. He, of course, agrees to a favorable valuation and to stay with the company for five years after the sale. He has also agreed to sell 51% of the company. Months later, however, Tim is displeased with the outcome. He has experienced a lack of decision-making ability.


  1. Cheryl has been asked by her VP of Sales to investigate two new CRM products that they are considering. Cheryl spends no less than 20 hours on the project and comes to her boss with a recommendation of the one she feels is the best for their team. Her boss ends up choosing a third product that Cheryl didn’t research. Cheryl is displeased with the outcome and experiences futility in giving her recommendation.


  1. Maggie has been in her role as the main administrative assistant to the HR Department for about one and half years when her boss announces that they are going to be restructuring the company to make room for a much larger client. Her boss explains that he isn’t exactly sure how things will change for her but that there will be some changes. Six months later Maggie finds herself in charge of scheduling meetings and managing the logistics of onsite meetings, which she never did before. Maggie is displeased with the outcome and experiences frustration spending time doing something that she does not enjoy.

While it is tempting to view these situations as completely different based on their “content,” the thread connecting each is that the individuals involved never established clear agreements. In each scenario, it was never clear who was making decisions, what tasks and abilities would be needed, for how long, and by when.

What is a clear agreement? At minimum it indicates who, will do what, by when. Now, in some of these instances the “when” may be ongoing, as it relates to the role in a more macroscopic perspective; however, even that includes a “when.” Additionally, agreements are bilateral. This means that both people co-create the agreement. This is different than an edict, which is unilateral and not created by two people.

Horrible agreements rarely have anything to do with the content of the agreement and have everything to do with how unclear the agreement was in the first place. And anyone who has ever made a horrible agreement (i.e. one missing the components described above) knows the power of them. The only thing you can do is renegotiate the agreement so that it is more clear. At least then it may not seem so horrible.

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