If you're responsible for people or resources — most of us are responsible for at least ourselves — you probably make commitments at work. You commit to do something (or not to), at a certain pace, or by a certain date, or within some constraints. Sometimes the commitment is part of an exchange: I'll do this, and you'll do that; or I won't do this, and you won't do that; and so on.
When commitments are part of exchanges, we sometimes call them informal agreements. Rarely are they written down, though they might be; rarely are there handshakes, though there might be. Most agreements actually work. What makes agreements durable? Here are some of their attributes.
- They're bilateral
- Bilateral agreements are based on mutual consent. In a unilateral agreement one of the parties believes there is an agreement, but the other doesn't, or is unaware of any agreement. For durability, both parties must be aware that a deal has been struck.
- They're clear
- Even if both parties acknowledge existence of an agreement, they might not agree on the terms. It's essential that all concerned agree about what's being exchanged, and how it will be exchanged.
- They're voluntary
- Neither party is coerced — not by the other, nor by events, nor by another party. If coercion drives the bargain, the agreement is durable only while coercion persists.
- The parties are equally knowledgeable
- Each party has roughly Even if both parties acknowledge
existence of an agreement,
they might not agree
on the termsequal information about the value of the items exchanged and the framework of the exchange. That is, both parties estimate the agreement's fairness equally accurately. If one party has better information than the other, then when the second party "wakes up," the deal often implodes, or the relationship sours.
- Incentives have symmetric value
- When the agreement includes incentives, the value of the incentives to each party is roughly identical. Incentives that mean much more to one party than the other are likely to lead to non-performance by the party that has lesser regard for its incentives.
- There are no incentives for breach of confidentiality
- When the agreement is confidential and sub rosa a trap awaits, because there can be an incentive to breach confidentiality. The first party to admit to a sub rosa agreement can sometimes avoid the penalties of having made such an agreement, even after harvesting value from it.
Most important, there can be no incentive for one party to turn against the other. If one party can capture value by inflicting harm on the other, the agreement is inherently unstable. It becomes a form of "I'll scratch your back; you stab me in mine." Durable agreements are structured such that turning on one's partner is very, very expensive. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part
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How does this happen?
- Active Deceptions at Work
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of this type, but there are others, and some are fiendishly clever.
- You Can't Control What Other People Think
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Maybe it would be. And maybe not...
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
- And on July 10: Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on July 10.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.