Building on strengths

3 tips for making a contract with yourself before making contracts with other people

Imagine you are going to have a conversation with somebody about your future co-operation together.

You may be planning to talk to a friend, a work colleague, a customer, a team or your boss. But there is one difficulty. You are not exactly sure how you want to co-operate with the person.

Let’s explore three steps you can take to make fulfilling contracts with people.

1) You can make a contract with yourself.

“Sometimes I emerge from meetings having signed-up for doing more work than I intended,” said one person. “Maybe it’s because I take on lots of responsibility, but I also find it hard to say ‘No’.

“The jobs get done, but there is a price to pay. Sometimes I think it would be better if I signed-up for fewer jobs. I would then do better quality work for the company.”

How to make clear contracts with people? Start by getting your own act together.

Make a contract with yourself before the actual meeting. Otherwise it can be easy to fall into a dialogue and stray far away from the things you really want to do.

Start by clarifying what you do and don’t want to do in the relationship. Clarifying your ‘script’ may sound artificial, but it is important to know your goals. You can then listen carefully to other people’s aims and, as far as possible, try to create a ‘win-win’. 

Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Start by describing a specific situation where you want to make clear contracts with people. It can be in your personal or professional life. It may be with one person, a group or an organisation. Then do three things.

* Describe the specific things that you do and don’t want to do in this relationship.

* Describe what you think the other party wants.

* Bearing these answers in mind, describe the specific things you can do to, as far as possible, create ‘win-win’ contracts in the relationship.

2) You can make contracts with other people.

“I adopted this approach when going for a job interview,” explained one person. “Even though I fancied the role, I wanted to be absolutely certain it was set-up to succeed.

In the past I had accepted a couple of roles which proved difficult, partly because I did not make clear contracts before accepting the positions. So on this occasion I made two lists.

“First, what I did want to do in the role. This included:

I do want: to have a reachable goal; to have a clear brief and mandate; to spend most of the time playing to my strengths – which is working with customers; to bring in support people who can implement the tactics and other grunt work; to get a certain financial package; to retain a good life-balance and work from home one day a week; to be judged on my results.

“Second, what I did not want to do in the role. This included:

I do not want: to have multiple bosses who cannot agree on the overall goals; to have lots of ‘dotted line’ reports who I am supposed to ‘influence’ in order to improve their performance; to spend less than 70% of my time focusing on what I do best.

“Crafting these lists helped me to concentrate before the interview. Of course, I did not go in and ‘demand’ these points upfront. I listened, clarified the picture of success, added some more goals and showed how I would deliver the results.

“Once the interviewers ‘bought’ these results, we discussed the working relationship. I felt relaxed, but clear on what I would and would not do in the role. The interview went well and we soon agreed on a clear contract.”

You will follow these principles in your own way. Once you have a clear contract with yourself, it is easier to listen and clarify the other party’s goals. You know what you will and won’t accept, so there is no need to get into arguments.

When appropriate, take time-out to reflect, think of potential creative solutions and find some ‘win-wins’. If these are immediately possible, great; if not, then buy time to do more thinking.

People work best when they create mutually rewarding relationships. If this is not possible, then it may be best to move-on. But being able to sleep on it often gives birth to new answers. You can then make good working contracts with people.

3) You can keep checking the contract with yourself.

Having made the contract, you will embark on fulfilling your part of the bargain. One key discipline to bear in mind is to keep revisiting the contract with yourself. Events can sometimes divert your from that central compass, so build-in times:

* To take stock – clarifying your achievements and also the challenges ahead.

* To check you are following the contract with yourself.

* To make any necessary adjustments – such as re-contracting with other people.

Try completing the following exercise. You can then keep following your contract with yourself.

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