The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Ground rule for contracting

Most of the time, people establishing a contract do so with the idea that they are writing down something that can be enforced. They see the contract as a means to achieve the desired result. Taking such an approach also means settling into a relationship that is based on control and with a distribution of power that is defined by the contract.

There might be very good reasons to establish such contracts, for example when a result can be promised. But that is not always the case.

In his book “Flawless Consulting” Peter Block shares the idea of using ground rules for contracting. Their purpose is to guide the participants in a contracting meeting while negotiating the contract. The idea is to establish a relationship that acknowledges that there are two sides to every story and has a built-in symmetry. Such ground rules are focused on the relationship, they serve during the contracting as well as in the follow-up process. It transforms the contract from one that is result-driven to one that puts the priority on the relationship and what can be achieved in that relationship.

Here’s a list of the ground rules:

  1. The responsibility for every relationship is 50/50. There are two sides to every story. There must be symmetry or the relationship with collapse. The contract has to be 50/50.
  2. The contract should be freely entered.
  3. You can’t get something for nothing. There must be consideration from both sides. Even in a boss-subordinate relationship.
  4. All wants are legitimate. To want is a birth right. You can’t say “You shouldn’t want that.”
  5. You can say no to what others want from you. Even clients.
  6. You don’t always get what you want. And you still keep breathing. You will still survive;; you will still have more clients in the future.
  7. You can contract for behavior; you can’t contract for your client to change their feelings.
  8. You can’t ask for something the other person doesn’t have.
  9. You can’t promise something you don’t have to deliver.
  10. You can’t contract with someone who’s not in the room, such as your clients’ bosses and subordinate. You have to meet with them directly to know you have an agreement with them.
  11. Write down contracts when you can. Most are broken out of neglect, not intent.
  12. Social contracts are always renegotiable. If clients want to renegotiate a contract in midstream, be grateful that they are talking with you about it and not just doing it without a word.
  13. Contracts require specific time deadlines or duration.
  14. Good contracts require good faith and often accidental good fortune.


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