Contracting is a critical intervention that defines agreements about goals, collaborative strategies, roles, relationship behaviors, and next steps. Developing these agreements—repeatedly—are a core process of managing change in human systems. They build the support needed for the accomplishment of the goals. When that support reaches critical mass, the goal will have been achieved. Such support often creates a deeper sense of relationship leading to greater effectiveness and efficiency. It all starts with the contracting process between the practitioner and the client. It then extends through any desired agreements for support between the client and other members of the system.
These contracts should have two parts: One part focused on task issues and the other focused on relationship issues. The task issues to be covered include basic things like outcomes, strategies, tactics, roles, and accountability mechanisms. Nothing unusual there. What is different, however, is contracting for relationship issues. Contracting for straight talk and feedback are essential to building and maintaining the high levels of relationship quality needed for effective change processes and sustainably healthy human systems. What I can’t fathom is what makes the notion of contracting for relationship issues so difficult to remember! No matter how I coach and otherwise advocate for clients and students to do so, it doesn’t seem to happen unless I am present to broach the issue. When I inquire about this, the responses all circle around, “I didn’t think about.”
If you have any ideas about why remembering to contract for essential relationship behaviors is problematic, I’d love to hear from you!
One final thought: The more explicit and specific the contracting is the better the process! Implicit and general agreements dramatically increase the probability for misunderstanding which will disrupt the change process.
There are three critical aspects to conscious use of self when it comes to managing change, when we want improve the dynamics of some human system be it at work or in our personal lives. They are intention, connection, and ego management.
Intention has to do with the goals and outcomes we desire. Habitually, our intentions are often out of consciousness, leaving us with behaviors from past experiences and teachings. These would have us protect ourselves and/or be well thought of via behavior which worked at some point in our lives, but which may not be effective in the present circumstance.
For example, when we find ourselves in potentially conflictual situations, unconscious intentions might have those of us who are conflict avoidant behave unobtrusively and agreeably—even when we do not agree. Accordingly, we might often find ourselves having agreed to tasks that we really don’t want to do. Still on automatic, with the unconscious intention to avoid responsibility for my negative circumstance (after all I was unobtrusive and friendly), I find myself blaming (under my breath, of course) those who asked me if I would do the task that I didn’t want to do.
I’ll share how we might be conscious in our intentions in my next blog! Then, connection and ego management!