How To Turn Expectations Into Clear Agreements

A leadership communication skill to create stronger work relationships and more successful outcomes.

There are two main causes of conflict at work:

  • Unspoken Expectations

  • Unclear Agreements

It’s ridiculous to get frustrated over expectations that weren’t clearly communicated. Or agreements that weren’t clearly made.

Yet, we all do it.

Strong leadership communication skills can create healthy work relationships and get things done right.

It can be as simple as:

  • If you have expectations, communicate them clearly

  • Even better, turn expectations into clear agreements

  • If you need to change agreements, renegotiate them clearly

  • If you break an agreement, clean it up

When we have expectations of others but don’t communicate them clearly, we set them up to fail and we set ourselves up for frustration and resentment.

This creates a Lose-Lose situation.

When we have expectations and communicate them clearly, then co-create an agreement, we create buy-in and ownership.

This now creates a Win-Win situation.

Great leadership is the ability to turn your expectations of others into clear agreements.

Let’s look at a few examples of expectations vs agreements:

Expectation: “Please get your task done by EOD Wednesday.”

Agreement: “I need XYZ by Thursday morning in order to complete my report. Would it be possible for you to get your task done by EOD Wednesday?”

Expectation: "I expect you to attend all team meetings." 

Agreement: "Our team meetings are crucial for staying aligned and updated on projects. Can we agree that you'll attend all scheduled team meetings or notify me in advance if you can't make it?"

Expectation: "You should keep the kitchen clean after using it." 

Agreement: "Since we all share the kitchen, let's agree that each of us will clean up after ourselves and leave the space tidy for the next person. Does that work for everyone?"

Expectation: "I want you to respond to client emails within 24 hours." 

Agreement: "Timely communication is vital for maintaining good relationships with our clients. Can we agree that you'll respond to client emails within 24 hours, or if you're unable to, delegate the task to a colleague?"

Expectations create less connection and trust, which leads to frustration and resentment when they’re not met.

Agreements create a more collaborative and clear understanding of expectations, which leads to more buy-in, ownership, and ultimately, a more successful outcome.

I’m going to share 3 simple frameworks in this letter:

  • How to make clear agreements

  • How to renegotiate agreements

  • How to clean up broken agreements

Let’s dive in!

How To Make Clear Agreements

Step 1: What are the Needs and Wants?

Identify the specific needs, wants or issues of all involved parties. Be clear about the problem and its context, and make sure everyone fully understands the situation.

Step 2: Does everyone feel heard?

Encourage open and honest communication. Allow everyone to express their thoughts, feelings, and expectations.

Listen actively and empathetically to allow everyone to feel heard.

Step 3: WHAT specifically is the task or deliverable?

Define clearly what the task is and how success (or completion) is measured.

Step 4: WHO is specifically responsible for the task?

Be clear about who is accountable for which tasks, and what the expectations are for each role.

Step 5: By WHEN will the task be completed?

Establish and agree on timelines and deadlines. Use clear dates and times.

Provide context on any consequences or impact of missing deadlines.

Step 6: Does everyone understand and agree?

Confirm the agreement. Check that everyone understands the terms, roles, and responsibilities.

Address disagreements to avoid misunderstandings.

Step 7: How is this agreement tracked?

Document and track the agreement:

  • Written agreement on email or shared document

  • Written contract for formal agreements

  • Written and assigned tasks in a task management tool

Revisit and amend long-term agreements to make sure everyone is still aligned and in agreement.

How To Renegotiate Agreements

As soon as you know that you aren’t able to keep an agreement you made:

Step 1: Communicate and Invite a Renegotiation

Let everyone involved know that you aren’t able to keep the agreement and would like to change the agreement.

A renegotiation can be:

  • Changing the terms (what, who, when) of the agreement

  • Deciding not to keep the agreement

Example: “I agreed to complete this task by EOD Wednesday but I’m unable to keep the agreement and would like to renegotiate the agreement with you. Would it work for me to get this done for you by Thursday at noon?”

Step 2: Listen to their thoughts and feelings–make them feel heard

Encourage open and honest communication. Allow everyone to express their thoughts, feelings and concerns.

Listen actively and empathetically to allow everyone to feel heard.

Step 3: Decide on the new agreement

Follow the process of creating clear agreements to create a new one.

Step 4: Revise the documentation

Update the documentation or create a new to reflect the agreement.

How To Clean Up Broken Agreements

If you broke an agreement, clean it up to get back into integrity.

Step 1: Communicate and take responsibility

Focus on taking responsibility rather than explaining why you did not keep the agreement.

Explaining why can come off as blame or justification.

It’s more powerful to just take radical responsibility and ownership for your actions or inaction.

Example: “I broke an agreement with you and I understand this may have impacted you. I take 100% responsibility.”

Step 2: Ask if there is anything you can do to clean up the agreement from their perspective

You can offer suggestions on what you’d like to do to clean up the agreement.

But also ask them what they think you can do to clean up the agreement and bring the relationship back into integrity.

Example: “I agreed to complete this task for you by EOD Wednesday and I wanted you to know I didn’t keep my agreement. I understand that breaking this agreement may have damaged your trust in me. I want to take responsibility. Is there anything I can do to repair this?”

Step 3: Listen to their thoughts and feelings–make them feel heard

Express yourself authentically, then listen actively and empathetically to allow everyone to feel heard.

Step 4: Confirm the new agreement

If there’s a new agreement to be made to clean up the broken one, create and confirm it.

There you have it, 3 simple frameworks for:

  • Turning expectations into clear agreements

  • Renegotiating agreements

  • Cleaning up broken agreements

Simple but not always easy. The key is to keep practicing them.

In my experience, learning to turn expectations into clear agreements is one of the most powerful leadership communication tools to create stronger relationships and more successful outcomes.

Thanks for reading, I hope you found it helpful!

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Your Pal,

Colin

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