The Elements of a Satisfactory Agreement between Coworkers

Settling a workplace conflict means developing good, solid agreements that satisfy everyone’s needs. These agreements hold up over time and have specific qualities that are important for you to look for in each of the proposals you discuss. Think of this part of the mediated meeting as a litmus test to identify these particular attributes.

If one of the following elements is missing, you increase the chances of the agreement falling apart and adding to the frustration of those involved.

  • *Doable. Agreements have to actually fit with reality. This attribute may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how quickly unrealistic agreements can become part of a plan that sounds good on the surface but inevitably falls apart. When your employees begin to make agreements on the heels of a lengthy or difficult conflict, a lot of good energy can be generated. You know your organization, so you should be able to gauge what you consider doable.

    Support the parties wherever you can but don’t set them up for failure by allowing a creative solution you know won’t fly with the rest of the company.

  • *Specific. Clearly outline what each employee is agreeing to do. Additionally, ensure that agreements describe the steps that each person will take in order to accomplish tasks, in a way that leaves no ambiguity as to the expectations each has of the other.

    Imagine two employees who decide that the best way to make sure that all the tasks assigned to them are getting fulfilled is to meet once a month for half an hour to discuss the workload. At the moment, Matt and Kate may think they have the exact same understanding of this meeting. But do they know when they’re meeting? Are there certain days or times that are better or worse for the discussion? For how long will they meet? And where will this meeting take place? How will they be sure that what needs to be discussed will get addressed?

  • *Durable. Although some agreements may only be intended to be short term or even one-time actions, agreements relating to ongoing relationships, processes, and procedures should have a reasonably long shelf life.

    Ask more questions and probe further if an agreement includes actions by either party that have the potential to cause an inconvenience or become tiring. Give both people permission to “be real” about what they can commit to and ask them not to sign up for anything they feel they won’t be able to sustain. Ask them to consider personal commitments, calendar commitments (like holidays), unpredictable factors (like traffic), and any possible organizational changes in the works.

  • *Complete. Has everything of importance to the conflict been addressed by the agreements? If something was important to either party, address it in the agreement — even if the arrangement is to discuss it at a later date. Cover all the agenda items.

    Dot the i’s and cross the t’s. If either party starts to resist pinning down exact details, coach him by letting him know they’ll both have a better chance at success if they take care of these details with you as a facilitator instead of walking away with a new misunderstanding to an old conflict.

  • *Satisfying. Often, in the midst of conflict, employees express a concern that their agreements be fair. Let me encourage you instead, however, to support the idea that agreements be satisfying. Look back on the rest of the meeting and note any values or interests that an employee shared with you, and ask him if the agreement meets those values.

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