Richard Maun – When A Contract Isn’t A Contract!

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When A Contract Isn’t A Contract!

6 February 2017

How many times have we agreed to meet someone at a specific time, only for them to be late …and we always suspected they would be, despite their assurances that this time they would be punctual? In my case, several – and I hold my hand up to being on both sides of this equation. Oops, sorry.

We don’t mean to be late of course, it’s just that the traffic was worse than we thought it would be, that interesting video on Facebook needed to be watched (how can we ever avoid cute kitties playing the piano), or that we simply dawdled for no good reason and are not going to share that.

Whatever the cause, it’s true to say that we had an imperfect contract. A contract is a mutual agreement, where both sides discuss their expectations and arrive at a workable consensus that they agree to stick to. It’s a basic building block of successful leadership, where task setting and commercial deals need to be arranged in an orderly fashion.

However, sometimes we fail to disclose things at the discussion stage. Maybe we don’t wish to offend the other person and think if we email them later it will have less impact. Perhaps our line leader has a powerful personality and although they are asking for our input, the reality is they stopped listening 0.001 seconds after they set the task. It could be that we don’t wish to reveal ignorance, or lack of experience, or are just someone who needs time to reflect and are denied this in the moment.

Whatever is going on in the conversation, if we don’t both put all our cards on the table, then we may have what is called psychological distance. We nod in agreement, but secretly inside us we are saying something else. We might be sitting face to face and yet our fears and worries put distance between us. When we have psychological distance then it’s highly likely that the contract will break down in full, or in part.

At this point a contract isn’t a contract, because the secret stuff is going to get in the way and derail it.

If we know our friend is always late then what’s the point of holding them to a specific time? It only creates tension and resentment and is a little game we don’t need to keep playing. If we ask our staff for their opinion and then refuse to listen to it, we cant blame them if the work goes awry.

Instead we need to be honest, or if that is too tricky, we need to be factual. Reminding someone of their actual time-keeping effectiveness isn’t rude, it’s simply stating the facts and creating awareness. Asking them which time works best for them invites them to think and gets their buy in.

It’s the same with teams. When we set a task it’s okay to ask our colleague if they feel competent, have the resources they need and to find out what deadline is workable to them. Too many leaders ask for work ‘asap’ or ‘for the end of the week’ with no real understanding of the workload their colleague already has. Taking time to talk about their capacity and to explore ways of meeting organisational needs leads to much better contracting, and thence to better outcomes and greatly reduced opportunities for frustration.

This week, think about any contract you make with a friend or colleague. Ask yourself if you have really talked it through, or just rushed at it? If you need to, take a moment, smile, and share your worries because this will invite them to disclose theirs and the psychological distance will decrease. Bad contracts lead to bad outcomes and we can all learn from the past in order to create good contracts. Have fun!

Next week: Working On Or Working In?


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© Richard Maun 2015 / Click here to contact