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“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” 

~ Alexander Pope

If you offer 1:1 programs for your clients, you may have considered or been encouraged to have your clients sign a contract. It’s not uncommon for coaches, for example, to have their clients sign lengthy contracts before embarking on a program together. I do not and have never used a formal contract with a client.

What I do instead is create clear agreements that both myself and my client can truly get behind. What I’ve found is that agreements (unlike contracts) inspire and uplift, cultivate greater trust and respect and all in all, create the foundations for a more powerful relationship. It’s not uncommon for a new client to tell me that they love the agreement process and that it has left them feeling even more excited to begin our work together. I doubt the same can be said for most contracts.

The reason for this is that contracts are grounded in expectation whereas agreements are not. We live in a world of expectations. Often unspoken, our expectations of how others should behave or show up and their expectations of us lie at the heart of most disappointments and resentments within relationships. Think about the last time you felt disappointed about the way a friend or family member behaved, is it true that behind that disappointment you had an expectation that they would behave differently? An expectation that in many cases had never even been expressed. Sort of crazy right? This is not what we want with our clients. What we want with our clients is a set of clearly stated and openly discussed agreements that both parties can get behind.

Co-created agreements pave the way for shared understanding and conscious connection. They release us from expectations and in doing so free us from the inevitable resentments that might otherwise occur.

In this post, I’m going to share with you a powerful process for creating clear agreements with your 1:1 clients (hat tip to coach and author, Rich Litvin for heavily influencing this in my business). It’s important to note that you can apply the concept of agreements to any relationship, personal and professional but for the purpose of this post I’ll illustrate the model as I apply it to my 1:1 coaching relationships.

Once a client has signed up for a 1:1 coaching program with me, I schedule an agreements conversation. I don’t use one of our coaching sessions for this, it takes place before the coaching program even begins. Ahead of time, I’ll send over my business coaching welcome pack, which contains the agreements I’d like to put forth and I invite my new client to consider these and any others that they would like to have us make.

On that call we discuss why agreements are important and we take time to discuss what agreements we would like to make. I always suggest a number of agreements that feel important for creating a powerful container for the coaching relationship. Read on for four examples of agreements I put forward.

An agreement to show up with an open mind

I invite my clients to make an agreement to show up to the coaching relationship with an open mind, I ask them if they are willing to to embrace new possibilities. To show up ready to see things differently, to have their perspective and mindset changed. to leave what they believe to be true at the door. And I then I have them read the Empty Cup Parable: 

A wise old monk once lived in an ancient temple in Japan. One day the monk heard an impatient pounding on the temple door. He opened it and greeted a young student, who said, “I have studied with great and wise masters. I consider myself quite accomplished in Zen philosophy. However, just in case there is anything more I need to know, I have come to see if you can add knowledge.” “Very well,” said the wise old master. “Come and have tea with me, and we will discuss your studies.” The two seated themselves opposite each other, and the old monk prepared tea. When it was ready, the old monk began to pour the tea carefully into the visitor’s cup. When the cup was full, the old man continued pouring until the tea spilled over the side of the cup and onto the young man’s lap. The startled visitor jumped back and indignantly shouted, “Some wise master you are! You are a fool who does not even know when a cup is full.” The old man calmly replied, “Just like this cup, your mind is so full of ideas that there is no room for any more. Come to me with an empty-cup mind, and then you will learn something.”

An agreement to show up powerfully

Another agreement I like to make with my clients is around showing up powerfully. I explain that Coaching is a 200% relationship. Rather than us each give 50%, we both show up 100% and when that happens we have the most powerful relationship possible.

I discuss with my client what it means to show up powerfully and what the opposite looks like. I make it clear that when one of us gives less than our best the relationship suffers. I invite the client to take time to prepare for our sessions and in doing so bring all of their power to the call.

An agreement to show up with integrity

We also discuss integrity, what it means to follow through with what we said we’d do and how to clean up when we haven’t.

Nobody keeps their word all of the time and that’s okay, but I like to make an agreement with my clients about what will happen when one of us doesn’t. Usually when we fail to keep our word, we will apologise and/or offer up some excuse. What I prefer to agree is that rather than apologise, we take a good look at why we didn’t follow through and rather than make excuses, we look at the gap between what was said would happen and why it didn’t. This brings a real level of integrity to the relationship for both parties. 

An agreement to be authentic

This is where I invite clients to be willing to be completely honest about what is going on for them inside the coaching relationship and to speak up.

Often times, clients want to impress their coaches and so keep hidden anything they fear might have their coach think less of them. This is a really unhelpful dynamic, so an agreement to be honest and authentic allows for a coaching relationship that really has the power to transform.

Giving my client permission to openly speak his or her mind about anything that comes up during the coaching relationship is powerful.  

Hopefully this gives you a flavour of the kinds of agreements we cover. After each agreement discussed, I ask for my clients thoughts and suggestions. Are they happy to agree to what we talked about? Would they add anything else to it? After the ‘agreements’ part of the call, I share some logistical details with my client, my policies on things like lateness, handing in homework, between call communication etc. I have my policies but I discuss these with my client and check that they are happy to abide with them, no one has ever said no but if they did, we would discuss it until we could find an agreement that worked for both of us. Before we wrap up the call, I ensure that there is space for my client to put forward any agreements they feel weren’t covered that, they would like to have us make.

This session is recorded and at the end of the call, I ask my client to watch the session back and write up in their own words what we agreed to. This then becomes the document that contains the agreements of our coaching relationship. This document is a living, breathing document that we can return to any time we like, if we feel something needs adding or changing then we have the option to do that at any time during our work together. I always get incredible feedback from my clients about this process and, without doubt, it sets a tone for our relationship that is rooted in integrity, openness, honesty and trust. It cements the idea that the coaching relationship is a partnership that we are equally responsible for and to.

How about you? Do you have anything like this in place for your 1:1 relationships? Would you like to? If you want to know more about the full set of agreements I share, drop me a line at [email protected] and I’ll happily share my business coaching welcome pack with you. Are there any agreements that you would love to make with your future clients? Or agreements you wish you’d had with a coach or other professional you worked with? If so, drop them in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. 

 

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