I was recently updating some software and I got the usual “Click here to accept this agreement” dialog box. As I clicked through 2 of these screens as quickly as is humanly possible, I found myself wondering where else I was accepting agreements without bothering to read or, worse, think about them.
So often, we give no thought to casual things we say or do, not fully understanding the scope of the agreement we’ve just made. “I’ll call you.” “I’ll take care of that.” “The un-communicated agreements we make in our various relationships.” I’m sure the list can be extended quite a bit and you have your own examples.
One of the best ways to figure out if you are indeed making unconscious agreements is to look at why people are ticked off at you, because so many of these agreements have to do with expectations. For many people, “I’ll call you” mean’s “I’m going to call you within a [defined] period of time.” It is not casual or idle conversation meaning “Someday, sometime, I’m gonna call you.” And so, when you don’t call as they think you promised you would, they get ticked at you.
When two people mean the same thing, cool. That works perfectly in that relationship. But if you are one of the “I’m gonna call you someday” people, saying “I’ll call you” to someone who takes that as a commitment, an agreement to communicate in the very near future, you are going to run into problems.
The best way around these unspoken agreements and expectations is to clearly define what you mean. If you mean tonight, say “I’m going to call you tonight”. If you mean sometime in the future, say “I don’t know when I’ll get a chance in the next few weeks, but I’ll call you when things settle down.” These are just examples, but you can see how you are setting different expectations.
Once YOU’VE defined what you mean, then stick to it, because, like it or not, you’ve just made a commitment. Just like the software company, once you’ve clicked to accept the agreement, you are responsible for meeting the expectations explicit in the agreement.
As you go through your week this week, pay special attention to where you are making unconscious agreements. If you are comfortable with where and when you are doing it, then you’re in a good place. If paying attention to these unspoken agreements makes you uncomfortable, then figure out how you are going to change the expectations you set with others.