One of the fundamentals Transactional Analysis invites us to use while coaching is the contract. It’s an idea many find uncomfortable seeing it as overly constrictive and sterile.
Discussing the topic with a colleague, she was sharing how handling such contracts was something impossible for her. She described how comfortable she was with settling in doing the work as it appeared. She also described how trying to deal a contract with herself failed many times. She for example had tried many times to agree with herself to do regular running exercises and never succeeded to hold on for very long to that contract.
Her example helped us untangle one of the misunderstandings with contracts in coaching.
The idea to exercise regularly is not only what is to be worked on but also the result. It is an effort to change behavior by pure will and often requires to apply discipline in an almost indiscriminatory way. It’s an approach that can only work for a limited time as behavior can’t be changed by mere will. Changing behavior requires a change in perception.
A coaching contract acknowledges that contracts are a basic element of human society. They are how we organize ourselves and our relationships. We don’t always notice them as there are implicit and explicit agreements. Some of which we are so used to that we don’t notice them anymore. The policeman in his uniform? An implicit agreement that he has a specific authority. Entering a shop that exhibits a sign that the only means of payment is cash means to engages in the explicit agreement named by the shop. Which is a mixture of implicit and explicit agreement.
Bringing contracts into coaching serves to establish an agreement between two individuals. It names the type of activity or relationship they will have with each other. It clarifies the individual roles and it reviews expectations.
it actually is a combination of a first conversation as a starting point to establish a relationship and a regular negotiation following the ongoing and evolving work and commitment to that work.
The first contract is a bit more extensive as it will go beyond discussing what the work is going to be and how the relationship will be lived. It will include a conversation about the administrative details linked to the work. And it also will create the space to assess each other’s expectations. The negotiations will be more subtle, they’ll relate to the experience, add details to define the work, and bring up questions allowing to check in with the relationship.
Naming the contract and negotiating keeps a space allowing to reduce the implicit agreements by transforming them into explicit agreements. Doing this work will not always be comfortable. We have become accustomed to keeping things to us not being sure how the other will react. Hopes, desires, feelings, thoughts remain unsaid but rarely unfelt. They cause confusion.
Naming them allows transforming how the relationship is lived, allowing for a relationship in which the work can be addressed and done.
It’s a process. It takes time. It grows. It can’t be hastened. It’s not easy. But it enables the results we are seeking to create.