Powerful Agreements: The Foundation of All Great Partnerships

by Joelle Prochera

When we discuss the concept of partnership, the first image that comes to mind is likely that of two people joining together to create a company. However, if we look closely at the definition of partnership—”a cooperative relationship between people or groups who agree to share responsibility for achieving some specific goal”—you could say that each of us is in fact working in partnerships every day.

Partnerships—whether between a business owner and vendor, organization and its clients, parents and their children, or spouses—are a regular part of living. Naturally, the more harmony you can find in your partnerships, the more joy and ease you’ll have in your life.

Here are a few simple steps that you can incorporate into any partnership to create strong communication and easy conflict resolution down the road.

How to Avoid the Common Pitfalls of Partnerships

Step 1: Begin with clear agreements. In a partnership, we experience the joy and increased productivity of incorporating others into our vision. However, when we work with others, it is essential that we also create a new set of rules to work by.

Examples of agreements:

-Within a business partnership: You already know that a contract outlining the legal agreements between the two parties is a must. For increased cohesiveness, take it a step further and create additional agreements on how you will treat each other, how to resolve conflict, and how to bring up potential concerns.

-In an employer-employee relationship: Providing a new employee with a clear job description, a list of all of their responsibilities, and a code of proper conduct within the office and between peers will set them up for success. And it will give you a reference point for employee appraisals, corrective action, and bonuses.

-In a client relationship: With my professional life-coaching clients, we begin our relationship by reviewing the legal contract as well as expectations regarding completing homework, preserving trust, and how late or missed appointments will be addressed. This process sets a strong foundation for the relationship.

-In a marriage: I attended a seminar that suggested creating a “code of conduct” for your marriage. This code lays down the rules of engagement for everything from fidelity to raising your voice. I can tell you that in our household it has helped keep the voices down and the language clean on many occasions.

Step 2: Forget common sense. Sorry gals, but after years of coaching frustrated managers who cannot understand why their people will not read their minds, I am afraid to tell you that there is no such thing as common sense!

Example: Where one person feels it is “common sense” or “common courtesy” to be promptly on time, another may feel that “on time” means a 30-minute window around the actual meeting time. Left un-discussed, these two versions of “common sense” are liable to create conflict, resentment, and frustration.
Start with a clean slate, throw out the notion of “common sense,” and assume nothing.

Step 3: Write it down. When it comes to getting your children to do their chores or getting your husband to take in the dry cleaning, maybe you can get away with not putting your agreements in writing (I said MAYBE). For everything else, you will be best served by writing it down.

Too often I see people resentful and frustrated because other people are not doing what they need them to do, while at the same time they are afraid to call the other person on their transgression because they are not sure if the particular issue had been discussed up front. This uncertainty and ambiguity often leaves the person dissatisfied and feeling powerless to change the situation.

By having your agreements in writing, you can ensure that when the inevitable questions arise or agreements are broken, there is no ambiguity, no question about what was supposed to occur, and no “but I thought we said …” Instead, you can pull out your document and review it together, identify what is out of alignment with your agreements, and discuss where to go from there.

Step 4: Check in regularly. Once your agreements are made, don’t let them fade into the mist with the general assumption that “no news is good news,” because often, some of the nastiest conflicts brew in silence with explosive results down the road.

By having scheduled times to check in with each other, you can celebrate what’s working, tweak what’s not, and clarify any gray areas early on in the process.

Whether it is a team member handing in a report on time or client paying their bills by the due date, taking the time to acknowledge where agreements are met or broken is an important part of creating great partnerships.

Joelle Prochera PCC is a member of the Cleveland Incubator and a certified professional life coach, owner of Coach Joelle Inc., and publisher of the LIVLOUD newsletter.