Employing Differences

Employing Differences, Episode 46: Do we agree with our working agreements?

March 30, 2021 Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 46: Do we agree with our working agreements?
Chapters
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 46: Do we agree with our working agreements?
Mar 30, 2021
Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis

"I almost want to stop calling them working agreements, and start calling them shared intentions."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Show Notes Transcript

"I almost want to stop calling them working agreements, and start calling them shared intentions."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Karen:

Welcome to Employing Differences, a conversation about exploring the collaborative space between individuals.

Paul:

I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

And I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

Each episode we start with a question and we see where it takes us. This week's question is, "Do we agree with our working agreements?"

Karen:

"Working agreements" is one of those terms that has sort of evolved. Like there used to be rules or policies, and then people didn't like being told what to do. So they didn't like rules or policies. So now we call them working agreements or guidelines. That's another word that comes up, sort of meeting guidelines. We've put all this other language around it. And we sometimes want to use those in the way of "Okay, so here are agreements, here are guidelines" at the beginning of a thing. "Are we all in agreement about that?" And everybody sort of nods, and maybe they raise their hand or whatever. Yeah, sure, we're in agreement, that's, that's fine. I'm not gonna be the one that raises my hand and says, "No, I don't like that one." Right? So what I think we're asking today is, do we actually have agreement? And by agreement

meaning:

really supporting that, willing to stretch myself to live into that, willing to be thoughtful and conscious and engaging in the way that those working agreements say. Do I agree in a meaningful way? Like, do I really agree with those working agreements?

Paul:

I think one of the ways that I've seen working agreements not go well is not just that it turns out we don't actually agree with them. But then we are as a group, particularly if we have an external facilitator, we're relying on someone else to enforce them. That can go all kinds of problems. It's one thing to say, "Hey, we actually have these agreements, and we know that they're actually gonna be a stretch for us. And periodically, we will actually not abide by them." And then to say, "So what do we want to do about that, when it happens?" That's actually something when I work with groups is to ask and build into that. How do we want to handle the case where these are broken? Because oftentimes, teams don't do that, or groups don't do that. And then they're going, "Well, someone else is violating the rule, what's supposed to happen now? And they're hoping someone else will do something about it. You know, and again, if that's, you know, a person who's leading a meeting, or moderator, or is that person in a position of authority. But it doesn't actually help the group to hold the working agreements, even if they did actually agree with them. So that's one place that I see them kind of go a little off the rails at times.

Karen:

Yeah, I think another place I see them go off the rails is when they're highly interpretive. So an example I've seen is like for a meeting guideline, "emotion is okay, but aggression is not." And darned if the person who's been emotional does not think they're being aggressive, but someone else does. And so and so again, there's that miscue in there somewhere about what do we actually mean by it? And also, what do we want to use it? And I think the other piece of where that particular one goes wrong badly is someone who is highly emotional is told by someone else, "You aren't allowed to do that thing. We have this guideline, you are breaking the rules." And their intention is very much to shut that person down. And that is never good news for relationships, in my opinion. Shutting someone else down just doesn't make them trust or connect or feel safe enough to show up in a meeting.

Paul:

Yeah. I think the big challenge is that we think we agree about our working agreements. Oftentimes, they're written in such a way that they seem totally reasonable. And they're vague. We all get to interpret them through our own lens. And so because they seem reasonable, and because they're vague, we go "Oh, yeah, of course, we agree." But we don't actually think they're the same things. One of the things that I will often do, when I am doing workshops with a group or I'm working with them for the first time, or I'm doing like a team charter, I will ask them, "How do you want to be when you work together? What's the atmosphere or the culture that you want to create?" And people inevitably one shows up where they're like, "Well, we want it to be respectful." At which point I just immediately ask, "What does respect look like in this group? If people were being respectful, how would you know? What would you see? What would you observe?" So we may get into much more behavioral things because I and I tell the story all the time I worked with a group, they happen to be French-speaking Swiss half of them were French nationals, half of them were Swiss nationals I worked with this team, where the way they showed you that they respected you was they would argue with you. If they did not respect you, they would never disagree. They just wouldn't; they didn't take you seriously. And that took me forever to figure out, like to decode. But once I realized, I was like, "Oh, the fact that you're pushing back against my idea, that's actually a sign that you're being respectful." Like, that's what respect looks like for you. So I will introduce that to groups and just say like, the terms that we're using seem completely reasonable and are horribly vague. And so we can't actually tell if we're agreeing on them.

Karen:

Yeah, I think the place that working agreements can be very useful, has to do with consciousness. It has to do with the things that we come in with assumptions around, we come in with expectations around, including, for example, what I think of as respectful, what I think other people should do, what makes me comfortable in a meeting. We come in with an awful lot of that without having thought about it or examined it, or really without even being aware of the expectations that we're holding. And so I think the value of working agreements is far less about being able to enforce behavior on one another, and far more about taking time to think about "How how do I want to be? How do I want to be perceived? How do I want to impact the rest of the group? And how does my behavior do that? What are the things that I do that actually align with what I value or the outcomes I like to get? And what are the things that I'm doing habitually without having thought about it, that are having a negative impact on people, particularly people who are different than I am?"

Paul:

I love the idea of getting intentional about how do I want people to experience me in this in this session. When I do working agreements with groups, they're almost always put for a session, right? This moment, when we are together here, where we're trying to accomplish this thing, what are agreements that we want to make, that will help us do that? So oftentimes, I'll have them think about, "What do you hope will happen? What do you hope won't happen?" And we'll harvest those things up and sort of put them up so that everyone can see them. And then the thing that I'll usually say is, "So as a facilitator, I will do my best to create the conditions where you can get the things that you want and avoid the things that you don't want. But also, there are way more of you than there are with me. So I'm going to ask you to also take responsibility for the things that each of you have said you need from each other to make this happen." And I love that in terms of kind of helping everyone in the group take responsibility for creating the conditions for the group to succeed. But I love that layer that you add to it that I now I want to I want to steal is about how do I want to be perceived by this group and in this situation? How do I want to be experienced? And being intentional about it, rather than being on autopilot. And thinking about how am I likely to screw that up? What am I likely to come across as instead of what I want, in this moment, with these people, working on this topic? And so yeah, the my favorite use of working agreements, is that sort of slowing down and going, "What do we need here and now, rather than what we're going to do, if we don't think about it?"

Karen:

Yeah, I almost want to stop calling them working agreements, and start calling them shared intentions. One of the reasons is what we've already said about getting clear about our intentions, getting conscious about them. But I also think it it creates an expectation that, as much as that is our intention, it is normal in this space that we will fail. It is normal in this space that as much as I want, as much as I intend to be inclusive and listening and hearing all viewpoints, I am going to sometimes exhibit behaviors that shut someone else down or that make it difficult for someone else to speak, because people are different than me. Because I don't know how everybody will respond in every situation. And I think that if we approach it from a perspective of shared intentions, and we can kind of trust that, "Okay, we're in a space where what we're trying to do is..." whatever those things say whether it's not have aggression, or have safe spaces to speak, or everyone can participate, or whatever those intentions are, and that if we can understand together that we have a shared intention around that, then we've created the space in which we can kindly, curiously supportively point out to each other, "I think your behavior is having a different impact than the intention that I believe you share with me. And can I give you that feedback around it?" That becomes a really productive space.

Paul:

Yeah, the way that I I tend to use working agreements is much more around setting tone. This is the kind of space that we want to create together. And when we do that, we sort of it becomes like a, you know, a sort of a compass towards where it is that we're going. It attracts the kind of behavior that we want. And then it gives us an idea I love your your your phrasing around that, of shared intentions. What is the space that we're trying to create here and now that will help us do the work that we need to do? And sometimes as a facilitator, I will drop things into that, based on my experience, saying, "I think it would help us if we held the intention to do this." But I always try to find those as invitations. They're not rules. I'm not going to punish you for not following them. But at the point where, as you say, we stray away from our stated intentions, then I think it can be really valuable and useful for us to point out that that has happened or may be happening, and then ask, "What do we want to do about that?"

Karen:

I think we sort of started with where can working agreements go wrong, and they go wrong, when they are so vague, that we are each interpreting them in our own way and differently, and they go wrong, when they're tools for enforcement. They go wrong when we are trying to use them to control the behavior of others in various ways. Where they go really right is where they are communication tools and where they help the bring to consciousness, "What are our shared intentions for this time together?" and create an opening for feedback and reset when those shared intentions aren't what's actually happening. And so when they create the space for that to happen, then we're probably in the space where we actually do agree with our working agreements, and can use them usefully.

Paul:

Well, that's gonna do it for us for today. Until next time, I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

And I'm Karen Gimnig, nd this has been Employing ifferences.