The Importance of Clear Agreements

You may be saying, “I know the importance of clear agreements.”  Even so, there is a good chance you are not getting them.

Today I want to give you a simple tool that will transform the culture of your organization and improve the results you produce.  It is called “the Complete Request.”  (I am grateful to Resource Realizations and Source Point Training Company for introducing me to this concept.)

I have been writing recently about coaching skills and ways of being that are useful to leaders in the organization.  I recently started training people to become coaches and I am seeing many leaders and managers come through this program to learn how to “coach” employees.  With so many people promoted from within their organization to leadership positions, yet with no formal leadership training, it is useful to learn how to coach employees.  (I use the word “coach” intentionally.  It is not just a title.  It is distinct from traditional views of management in that it is collaborative, empowering and invites buy-in from employees.  Traditional management styles tend toward telling, dictating and disciplining and often promote a level of disengagement and a go-along-to-get-along attitude.)

The Way we Normally do it

Let’s imagine you, a leader in the organization, say to Mary, “Please work on this project.” Mary says, “OK” and puts it in line after the research you asked her to do yesterday and the proposal another manager gave her a week ago. Next Friday, you come to her and say, “Are you done with the project?” She says no. You get upset that she has not done “what you asked her to do.”

The Price we Pay

The effect of this entire communication pattern is, among other things, an erosion of trust. Your trust for her diminishes because you thought she would be done by Friday and she was not. Her trust for you fades because you were not clear in what you wanted or by when and so she – consciously or unconsciously – decided when it was due. In her mind she did not miss that deadline. And now she does not trust your judgment or fairness as a leader because you got mad at her or disciplined her for something she does not believe she did.  This is a common scenario.

What is a “Request?”

The first thing to recognize is this – anytime you ask an employee for something, you are making a request of them. The best way to build trust with people – and to get what you want – is to recognize that you are making a request and to do it mindfully and carefully. Take responsibility for making clear requests, because as you can see above, your unclear requests lead others to mistrust you. And trust is a fundamental element of strong relationships – particularly those in your office. (

Recognize that when you make a request, you are asking someone to make an agreement with you. You are asking someone to promise you something. When we put this kind of language on it, it starts to feel more significant. If you look at it this way, you might slow down and think about what you are asking.

The Elements of a Complete Request

There are five elements to attaining a clear agreement with another person.

(1) A committed speaker

That’s you. Are you present? Or are you on the computer or focused on something else? Are you clear what you are asking for? Often we are in such a hurry that we don’t stop and ground ourselves before a meeting. However, this method does not save time. It leads to confusion, which wastes time down the road. Take a moment and decide what you want to ask for. Then make sure you are not distracted during the process of making the request.

(2) A committed listener

Is your employee on the phone? The computer? Distracted by something else? If you want a clear agreement, take the responsibility for making sure you don’t talk to her when she is distracted.

(3) Terms of the agreement sought

Be crystal clear what you are asking for. I coach a lot of employees who are spinning their wheels doing something the wrong way because the person who assigned it did not take the time to be clear on what they were expecting.

  • Slow down.
  • Be clear.
  • Ask questions.
  • Have them repeat it back to you.

This is the first place I want to mention curiosity. Ask questions. See if they really get it. It takes a while to truly understand a person’s experience and skill level. Be curious. This will save you a lot of time in the long run.

(4) A time element

This cannot be overstated. It is so important that it is set forth as a separate element in the process of making requests. How often do we say, “Will you please do this?” and the other person says, “Yes” only to fail to come through? What is the problem? As above in our example with Mary, when no time element is stated, both parties “make up” their own deadline.

You are much more likely to get what you want when you include a clear time element. You are also more likely to hear if the person actually has the time to do the project. This is an important point with employees, particularly if they are working for more than one person.

(5) A response from your listener

Responses to a request include: yes; no; or a renegotiation.

“Yes, I will do X, Y, and Z by Friday at 5 p.m.”

“No, I will not do it.”

“Yes, I could do it, but not until Tuesday.” Or, “Yes I can, if I can get some help on this other matter.”

This is another good place to talk about the importance of asking questions. If you want to get a clear agreement from someone, make it possible for them to be honest with you. Many employees do not feel they can say “no” to their bosses.  Ask questions and make it okay for them to tell you what’s on their plate and if they have time to get your project done by the time you want it.

When you finally get a “yes” to your request, you have an agreement!  (But not until then.) Try this tool.  It will change everything.

This is just one of the many coaching skills we teach in Transformative Coaching Essentials. Are you curious about Professional Coach training? Whether you want to examine a career in Professional Coaching, become a more effective manager, or parent more mindfully, these skills are immensely useful in all areas of life. Check it out:

“Coach training has changed the way I view myself in the world. I didn’t realize the level transformation that I would go through by going through this process but it truly has been a life changing transformation. 

I originally enrolled in coach training to connect better with my clients and to understand coaching on a deeper level. After coaching one on one with Cami for a year, I knew the value of coaching in my life and wanted the opportunity to share my experience with others. 

However, only a short time after starting Cami’s coach training program, I realized that this training was something very, very special. Not only was I learning valuable information about coaching during and in-between each session, but I had found a support system of fantastic human beings and coaches that were helping me find a completely new perspective on my life. Each weekend challenged me to view the world I knew in different ways including my beliefs about how I existed in the world.

Perhaps the most influential part of the program for me was being able to work with my own coaching clients. The coach/client relationship is a special thing. For me, this relationship has given me a purpose beyond what I’ve had previously thought possible. Seeing the potential in my clients and being able to watch them push through their barriers to overcome obstacles has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

I would highly recommend this program to anyone interested in learning more about coaching or themselves.”  –Tim Stephenson, Jazz Percussionist and Teacher (

About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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