Contracts are a way of writing down an agreement between people. They are effective at explaining ‘what’ but tend to miss the ‘how’. Basic things like whether you like the buzz of the office or value the quiet of home. How much responsibility you want, how you prefer to get feedback and what you would like to do more of, to make yourself more useful…. And what you don’t like. So many of these things are usually left as ‘unspoken understandings’ that build between people. It's of course much harder for these understandings to develop organically when we can't stand in the same room as our boss or colleagues because there is little opportunity to exchange those little hints by which we normally signal to people what we do and don't like.
There are also some handy rules that we suggest, when we're contracting, which really help to get people talking about what's important to them. Here are three key ones.
Ask forwhat you want. Be clear, be true to yourself. Take responsibility for looking after your needs and preferences.
No shame, no blame. Don’t be ashamed in making a request. Try not to blame the person for making it.
Accept that you may not get some or all of what you requested. Accept that you might not like all of what you hear.
Contracting should be a regularly occurring, normal conversation because what we want to offer and request will change frequently with circumstances.
Since we've been working apart it has become much more tricky to have these detailed, rather subtle, conversations so it takes a special effort to make them happen. And yet, asking for one of these conversations is easier than you might think. One can simply start with the words:
I'd really like to talk about how we work together. There are some things that I probably haven't picked up about what you prefer and there are certainly things that it has been difficult for me to mention to you in these last months. It would be great to get our heads together and to exchange some offers and requests. We’ll need about half an hour.
And then your conversation will simply feature 3 headings:
1. The things I offer 2. The things I request 3.What I’m worried about
This type of conversation is vital because it allows you and your counterpart to spell out what’s really important to you both.
Bottom line: unspoken understandings work better when they’re spoken.