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Transcript #59: Improve Your Work and Life by Creating Clear Agreements

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Episode #59: Improve Your Work and Life by Creating Clear Agreements

Welcome to Allowed. I am your host, Caneel Joyce. Last time we got together and talked about integrity, I was telling you about what integrity is, why it matters and how to really feel it in your body, so that you have this instant real-time tool to access, “Am I in integrity with myself and with my agreements? Am I on that ‘right path’ of integrity? Or am I beginning to fall out of, or maybe I’m way out of integrity.” We’ll link to that episode in the show notes if you’re curious about those topics. It’s really, really important.

Today, we’re going to talk about how to create high integrity agreements, how to create a very clear agreement so that all parties know if you’re in integrity or not, and you can move toward repairing it if you begin to fall out of integrity there. Here in the new year, a lot of us have made agreements with ourselves about improvements that we might want to make to our life.

In my team, we’ve just done a bunch of 2021 and ’22 planning. We’re super excited about the things that are on the roadmap ahead, and we understand that life throws wrenches. Also, we learn. As we move forward in our lives and in our creative pursuits and our goals, we learn. And sometimes, we learn things about ourselves and we decide, “Hmm, think I want to change the plans here.” That is all well and good when we do so consciously.

Sometimes I think we should on ourselves and we say to ourselves, “Well, I should follow through on this goal?” Or, “I should do this thing on my to-do list simply because it’s there and I said I would.” We have an inherent understanding that we want to have integrity and that meaning what we say we’ll do, we actually do. However, we don’t give ourselves that space and opportunity to say, “Hmm, feeling a little bit like I don’t have a whole body yes for this goal or agreement anymore. Maybe I ought to lean into that and unpack what that’s about, and maybe I just want a different kind of agreement. Maybe this agreement doesn’t matter to me anymore. Maybe there is something different that would work better for me.”

We do have a natural, inherent and very much embodied sense of when we’re in integrity. And so, we can take steps to repair it as long as we’re conscious about it. Now, here is where it gets tricky, especially with these agreements and when we make agreements with others, is we often set ourselves up to fall out of integrity right at the beginning. Because we create agreements that themselves don’t have a lot of integrity in them, meaning they are not contained, they are not aligned, or they are not clear. I want to teach you today about what a clear agreement is. How you can make one? Why that’s so important for integrity? And again, you can apply this in any part of your life, your work life, your home life, your personal life, your creative life, and that life that lives within yourself, just your relationship with yourself.

What is a clear agreement? A clear agreement is an agreement where it’s very clear who will do what by when and how will everybody know that it’s been completed? Who will do what by when and how will we know it’s been completed? Let’s take that beat by beat. Who’s going to do what? This is one where I often see agreements, they become vague right at the onset. You’ve been in a meeting or a conversation where it’s like, “Let’s do this. Yeah, let’s take care of that issue. Let’s go and make this goal happen.” But who’s on deck? Who’s on first? Who’s meant to do that thing?

And sometimes, it happens often for very below the line reasons, actually, of, “Well, I wouldn’t want to impose upon you so I’m not going to directly ask if you will be the one to do this thing, because I’m making up a bunch of stories that that would make you a victim or that you’d get angry or whatever. Maybe I haven’t settled in well enough with my own power, if that’s the case. Maybe there’s something that actually I don’t even have a whole body yes for you doing the agreement.” But we often fail to define who is in charge.

Now I, personally, am of the school of thought that there are lots and lots of things that can be done in cooperation and in coordination. And, in fact, I think that’s a really, really key skill of being the creator of your own life, is the ability to co-create and to enroll and enlist and inspire co-creators who can work with you. However, I’m not of this school of thought, just in my own experience, that it’s terribly easy to have more than one person accountable for one thing. It’s always useful, if you really want something to get done, to have an accountable party.

Now, that might not be the person who is actually responsible for executing and implementing on something, and we’ll get deeper into this distinction between responsibility and accountability in a future episode. However, I really want to drive home this point right now. Make sure it’s really, really clear who is really on deck to be the one that’s accountable, meaning they are in charge of reporting back if the thing happened or not. And they’re ultimately the ones who are accountable for its completion, even if they’re not responsible for executing and they’re going to delegate it, or what have you. Find that one person, because who will do what and by when? How will I know?

The next issue here is what? What exactly is supposed to be done? I was just in a session of my online group coaching program, Forward Fearless, soon to be renamed… And one of the individuals, fantastic leader in this group, was sharing kind of an intention he had to bring this work further into his life, and his intention was to get more intentional about some specific area. And I pushed him on it because it’s really quite vague, and it’s something that we do so often as well. “I’m going to get better at this. I’m going to be more thoughtful about it. I’m going to get more creative about it.” But what is the it? What exactly are you going to do in the real world?

And I think we sometimes fail to make that clear, even with ourselves, because on some level, we’re scared or we don’t want to do it to begin with. And maybe we don’t want to do it because we’re scared? “I’m going to get in better shape in 2021,” might be an example. But how? “I don’t have a plan for that. There is no action that I actually am committed enough to, that I’m even willing to state it. I certainly don’t want to hold myself accountable for it.” It’s just a vague intention, which is fine. There’s totally a place for that. It’s just not an agreement. An agreement is really what propels me into action, where I can now allow myself to stop needing to think through all the steps and I can actually get into the real world and move things forward. Make sure that what is super, super clear. And here is how you know it’s clear. A clear what in your agreement means that anybody who knows what that what is, would know, without a shadow of a doubt, if it had been completed or not.

It’s an objective, unarguable fact based what. “Here’s what I will do? It doesn’t matter if you like me or you don’t like me, there is no subjectivity about it. We’re both going to know if it happened or it didn’t.” Now the, “By when?” What’s the timeline here? When is this going to happen by? Again, this is another one where when we feel scared, maybe there’s some creative resistance or we’re intimidated, some imposter syndrome. There is a bunch of reasons why this might happen. We fail to set a deadline. I actually don’t like that word deadline. It’s a lifeline. It’s life giving. It’s life-giving to get into action and make things happen. And sometimes, our, “By when?”, we could define that even in a vague way and that would still satisfy my request. So by when? Well, we’ll do it by the time that we’ve done these other things, and it’s going to be sometime in this time range. I don’t need to be nitpicky and super specific every single time.

But if I’m not even willing to give some sort of a plan around the contingencies, then maybe, “Aha,” that’s a great thing to notice because that means perhaps you didn’t have a whole body yes to actually completing this, at all. If you aren’t clear yet on what whole body yes is, go back to episode 39 where we cover that topic and how to know if you have a whole body yes. It’s one of the simplest and most transformative concepts in my view. If you don’t have a whole body yes, that’s a great thing to find out. Because not having a whole body yes is one of the primary reasons that we fall out of integrity.

If defining any step of this agreement, you come against resistance, lean into it. Don’t be like, “Oh, well, I shouldn’t feel resistance. I shouldn’t feel scared.” No, explore it. This is the time to do that. Really check and see, “Does this agreement feel good?” Sometimes you don’t know. Sometimes we are aware that there are other forces happening, that we are still agitated from something that happened in the meeting immediately prior, or we know that we’re really tired and depleted or we’re hungry. And there is a wisdom in saying, “I’m not going to make a decision under these circumstances, unless I absolutely would not want to have the consequences play out of not making the decision.” But many, many decisions about agreements, you can take a little bit more time than you might be allowing yourself to have.

You can say, “I’ll come back to you,” with the specific thing on this specific date and then, there is the new agreement. The agreement is, “We will have a conversation about it,” or, “I will do some thinking about it. I will get to clarity and I will come back to you with an update,” on this date. That is an agreement. Don’t ever put yourself in the position, if you can help it, of forcing yourself into an agreement before you’re ready. That’s an opportunity to check something out that’s valuable.

Now the last element of an agreement, again, it’s who will do what by when and how will I know? How will we all know? The, “How will we know?” that’s the accountability piece? That’s where and when, and who is going to deliver the account of what happened, meaning did it happen? Did it not happen? What exactly went down? And this can be a very simple and brief thing, like checking a box. It could also be quite extensive, like giving a presentation or a deck or writing up a report. However, it’s something, again, that’s directly observable and it’s in the concrete real world, “How will I know?” Once I’ve got my clear agreement set, “Oh my gosh. I’ve just completed such a big and important piece of creative work.”

Often, so many of the missteps in execution, they seem like they happen while you’re busy executing, but the misstep actually happened because you didn’t think through the agreement to begin with. Really forcing yourself to get to that level of clarity about, “What exactly is going to happen? Who’s going to do it? When’s it going to happen? How are we going to know it got done?” That takes care of so many of the creative kinks, in my experience, in executing on a huge variety of projects and goals. And now, both parties can be clear about what they’re accountable for, or all parties can be clear about that. And that means we can now have clear and conscious and drama free conversations about the status of said project, and we will not feel compelled to waste our time with drama based conversations that are actually just anxiety about, “Is the agreement happening in the way that I want it to because you and I both know, we never really got clear on what that was,” or, “I don’t think you had a whole body yes,” or, “I didn’t have a whole body yes.”

There is so much drama that circles around these agreements that are not well-defined. I’m just a huge stickler for it. I think that part of this… It’s funny. I know my brother and I are both really, really into this exactly what is the agreement thing. And we both have been told, at times, that we take things “too literally. I think that we really both recognize… Bringing [Brit 00:15:03] into this. Thank you, Brit, my brother, my hero. I think we both really recognize that it’s quite easy to have a misunderstanding down the line if you’re vague upfront, and there is a benefit to getting really literal and concrete and real-world based when you’re doing things like creating agreements, because it’s so very, very common for us flawed, biased humans to have misunderstandings, to both think that we have an agreement because we both wish we had an agreement. But, in fact, because we want that so bad and we’re so scared or we have blind spots, we didn’t check. We’ve probably all been in a circumstance like that.

Here is your coaching exercise for today, and then you can get more resources in future episodes where we’re going to be diving deeper into integrity, especially integrity and teams. And then again, go back and listen to the first integrity episode, What is Integrity? But there is more resources here and on

What I want you to do now is apply this immediately. This is going to take just a minute or two. Just connect to your gut. Where are you out of integrity? What agreement has been lingering, ignored, or looming over your head and undealt with, where you have not done what you said you would do, or what you intended to do? Where is one where you’re concerned, perhaps, that it’s too vague, it’s not well-defined or there’s not enough shared clarity between parties that anyone would actually know if the agreement got completed or not without a shadow of a doubt and without any drama?

Great. Hopefully you’ve identified something. Now, from this point, you have so many choices about how you’re going to deal with it. You don’t need to go deep into psychoanalyzing yourself here and trying to understand why? Why? No, you don’t need to do that. Now, it’s time to get into action. How can you get back into integrity? And like so many things in personal growth, one of the most important questions to ask yourself at this point is, “What do I really want? What am I actually willing to do? What am I actually willing to be committed to completing, meaning I will do all I can in my own creative control? Everything I can control about this, I’m going to control because I am willing to sign up for it.”

And then you can get into creating the agreement that you want. As you move toward creating that new renegotiated agreement, which might be, “I’m not going to do this thing at all.” Or, “I want this to get done, but it’s not going to be me.” Or, “I want this to get done, but it’s not going to be you. It’s going to be me.” There is a million ways you could do it. But once you get to that place and you now have that clarity, now you’re in a creative mode. And that is going to be such a gift to you because it’s going to instantly free up your energy and your aliveness and you’ll have way easier access to flow. And that’s what it’s all about.

All right now, leaders, if you are a manager of people, a leader, a project lead, if you drive projects forward of any kind or you are in coordination with anybody at all, including in your own home, about how to get something done, this is a tool you can instantly put to good use. All it takes is A, knowing what integrity feels like. Again, go back to the What is Integrity? episode to get even a more embodied sense of what that is. Know what integrity feels like for you. If you feel a little twinge of, “Hmm, I think I’m a little out of integrity here,” or, “We might be a little out of integrity,” then you have an opportunity to push toward clarity. All you need to do then is scan, “What is the agreement that we’re trying to circle around and make here?”

Because often, in meetings… I have to admit it frustrates me a lot to be in a meeting where the conversation is circling and circling and agreements are not getting made. Be that voice of, “Okay, cool. Sounds like there’s a lot of desire to get this thing done. It sounds like we have a lot of alignment that this is the direction we want to go in. Let’s get clear on action steps. Let’s create some agreements. Who’s going to do what by when?”

Now, in a brief meeting, it may be that you don’t want to dive into the nitty gritty details. Perfect opportunity to assign that accountable party whose job it is going to be to ensure that clear agreements get made and communicated in a very clear and unarguable way, a concrete real-world objective way. That’s often how this gets handled. It can be very efficient. It can also be super beneficial, in that team context, to go through the process of creating a clear agreement, because it is so revealing and often you want those different diverse, creative voices in the room because this is a creative act. This is a, “What would really, really serve what we are trying to achieve here? What really is in line with our mission, our goals, our values?”

And that that can sound a bit heavy, but it’s actually quite fast and simple. Who will do what by when and how will we know? This is one of the highest leverage management tools there is. If you are a young manager, you’re just starting out in managing people or you know one, this is the tool I advocate for you to learn as fast as possible, because this is going to be what enables you to move from intention to action and results. And presumably, that’s what we’re after. Sometimes I think, when we’re having these meetings and we’re circling around and we’re not making agreements, I start wondering, “Does anyone here actually want to take any action or get any results? Maybe we actually just want to socialize. Let’s go get some ice cream.”

Please do put this to use. It’s super, super helpful. I’d love to hear stories about any insights that this gave you and changes that you’re making and how you are pursuing making your agreements or leading your teams. It’s great when you reach out. I’d love to ask you, on this episode, to please, if you haven’t yet, go ahead and subscribe. Open up your podcast player right now and hit subscribe. Leave us a rating and a review, that helps so much in helping others who are like you, who want the same things you do, to find this show and to be in this community together.

I’ve got such exciting announcements coming up for you guys soon and I can’t wait to tell you about them. I am so excited to be in partnership with you and to share with you the new things coming up down the pike. You can learn more about that at We’ve got really cool programs, products, events, and I really neat community that’s coming altogether and I would love to invite you to be in it. Those are a bunch of things I’d love to ask you to do. Up to you what agreements you want to make with me, and I can’t wait to hear about how this changes your life. Thank you for giving yourself the gift of listening to this show today. Thank you for knowing that you being in integrity is valuable because your aliveness matters. Your creative force really, really matters. You have gifts. Agreements are a container to bring those gifts into the world. Go forth and create, and thank you for being here. Happy 2021, and I’ll see you soon.


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