Upfront Agreements: The Antidote to Confusion and Drama

Want to cut on-the-job stress, confusion, and hassles?

Look no farther than the upfront agreement, a powerful and underused trick to reduce the pain of leading, improve attitudes, and ensure positive outcomes.

An “upfront agreement” is a statement or discussion you have prior to an issue arising. In short, you discuss the possible challenges that may happen and decide in advance how to handle them.

This way, you preemptively address possible issues to diffuse them and often prevent them from happening at all.

This four-step exercise will put your upfront-agreement strategy to work and ensure that you are ready to address issues up front before they become seeds of distrust.

  1. Identify Areas for Possible Confusion, Disagreements, or Discomfort

Consider a situation or topic for which you’d like to create an upfront agreement (project start, new hire, career/performance coaching conversation, repetitive conflict you wish to resolve, clarifying deliverables/deadlines, etc.). Anticipate challenges that might arise and things you tend to disagree on, miscommunicate about, approach differently, etc.?

In the case of business, for example, this could mean having an upfront conversation and agreement about how and when invoices will be paid. Brainstorm answers to these questions to get started

2. List a “Best Case” for Each Scenario and Person
Once you’ve listed your scenarios, brainstorm a best-case outcome for each. For example, a preferred approach to getting paid might be requiring clients to pay in full before engagements begin. If the client counters with a different strategy, you’ll need to negotiate a payment approach that works for both of you. Consider these questions:

    • What do you believe is most important to the other person?
    • What is most important to you?
    • What are you willing to negotiate on and what are your “non-negotiables”?
    • What are your ideas or suggestions for addressing possible issues? Come to the meeting/discussion with ideas and avoid deciding in advance what they should be.

3. Determine Feasibility
Just because we want something, doesn’t mean we will get it. Review your best-case scenarios, objectively and honestly. How likely it is that another person or organization will accept your terms? Ask yourself a few more questions:

    • “What’s in it for them?”
    • “What will it take to make this a win-win for both of us?”
    • “If I were on the other side, how would I perceive this request?”

If your answers are positive, you may be onto something good. If your answers are mixed, you might need to do some fine-tuning to ensure most of your needs are met, and the other party is happy, too.

4. Practice Using Upfront Agreements
Select one scenario and best-case outcome and draft an upfront agreement. For example, you may want to establish conflict-resolution rules.

Your best-case scenario might call for conflicts to be addressed directly and with respect and honesty. An effective way to design an upfront agreement around conflict could be to state, “Conflicts are unavoidable in the workplace. Let’s discuss how to handle disagreements before they occur, so we can manage and resolve them effectively.”

Another upfront agreement might revolve around performance issues. A way to engage in that conversation may be, “As your manager, my job is to help you grow in your role. How would you like me to address possible performance issues with you? Once we have decided on a plan, what can I expect you to do to follow through?”

Upfront agreements are especially powerful because they proactively address issues and agreed-upon action plans.

The more comfortable you are using this strategy at the start of a new relationship or task, the more successful you will be in your personal and business lives.