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Building Effective Communication by Creating Covenant Agreements
In both your personal and professional life, communication is key to keep your family and business running smoothly. Setting clear expectations is an essential ingredient to avoid relational acrimony and dysfunction. When there is lack of direct and clear communication, those around you begin to assume, which is generally nowhere close to the mark, creating frustration on both sides – “You aren’t giving me what I want” and “Well, if you told me what you want, maybe I can deliver.”
[Related: Turning Confrontation Into Conversation]
As a succession planner, I am frequently in the position of helping partners, family and team members work out their differences towards harmonious and productive working relationships. Over time, whether it be the baggage of childhood or years of working with a partner, it is not uncommon for lines of communication to break down – every relationship that is worth it, takes work. In these environments, my partners and I have found developing covenants is a tool to help get the relationships back on track. Covenant agreements are a formal promise, not a contract, between two people to act together in harmony towards a common goal. Covenants formalize reasonable expectations and in turn form trust and build a stronger team.
Instead of my many real-life experiences, a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory illustrated how covenants works in such a funny way, I couldn’t pass up using it to explain the process. Anyone who has seen the show knows Sheldon Cooper is infamous for his roommate and girlfriend agreements. Sheldon’s contracts, which his friends think are ridiculous, are so meticulous that they provide a solution for every argument. In this particular episode, the couple Leonard and Penny had been fighting and both found themselves frustrated over their relationship issues. Sheldon, tired of hearing about it and not wanting to miss an opportunity to show how he is the smartest person in the universe, eagerly offered to write their spousal agreement. Leonard and Penny reluctantly agreed to accept Sheldon’s help, but afterwards admitted they were better for it.
If you are finding yourself in a relationship conundrum in business or even in family and want to go the route of Sheldon, Leonard and Penny, covenant agreements should include written expectations for you and your family or your business partner to:
- Measure and hold each other accountable (suitable for business)
- Communicate with each other on a day-to-day basis
- Problem solve with each other
- Maintain unity within and outside the organization
- Define roles and responsibilities
It’s important to find a facilitator who won’t be accused of showing bias and who isn’t afraid to keep the conversation on track or call you or the other party out if you are being unreasonable. In your personal life, a facilitator could be your family therapist or a trusted friend. In a business setting, I recommend hiring a professional business consultant or coach. The facilitator should also be patient, a good listener and have experience overseeing emotionally honest and respectful discussions. You should keep in mind that covenant agreements can take several months to complete and you should expect the process to stir emotions, especially if there have already been issues in the relationship.
[Related: How To Have Difficult Conversations]
Consider the following best practices to facilitate the covenant process:
1. Each partner should meet with the facilitator individually to prepare in writing a list of expectations of the other person. You can expect this process to take several meetings.
2. The facilitator should help you identify any unreasonable expectations you might have of the other person.
3. Once each party and the facilitator have revised and agreed upon a draft, you should exchange them to take some time to read each other’s list privately.
4. Meet with the facilitator again individually to reconcile any unreasonable expectations. The facilitator should have a conversation with each party to talk about why you think any expectation is unreasonable.
5. After each party has worked with the facilitator to finalize and confirm the list of reasonable expectations they feel is appropriate, there should be a face to face meeting with the other party to discuss, refine, and confirm expectations.
6. Finally, the covenant should be formalized. As a ceremonial gesture, each person should sign the covenant they agree to, acknowledging the covenants not as a legal document but as a morally binding mutual promise.
Though this process might be uncomfortable, completing this exercise should open communication with your partner. Effective communication will lead to fulfilling relationships, high-performing teams and increased productivity in your business.
Adriana Puente is an Associate of The Rawls Group, a business succession planning firm.Adriana specializes in dealing with the issues that must be resolved by business owners to implement succession strategies geared towards building business value. For additional information, visit www.rawlsgroup.com or call 407-578-4455.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
BNY Mellon Wealth Management
Adriana has more than 10 years of experience working as a tax accountant focused on corporate, partnership, non-profit, high-net worth individual, and estate clients. Through her career, she has gained diverse experience interacting with business owner’s and families working in public accounting and banking. Adriana spent the past several years working in estate tax, building on her knowledge and importance of planning. In addition to her experience, she is passionate about helping business owners realize... Continue Reading