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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tacit Agreements & How to Change Them

We love to work, play and live with people who "read our minds" successfully. Like playing music together, tacit agreements coming from a shared subculture can sometimes give a very pleasurable conviction of bonding. It's is pleasurable how easy it can be to “read” each other's intentions and needs in the context of shared values and circumstances. However, tacit agreements can be tricky to manage if they need to change.

Many of these circumstantial "agreements" and tacit understandings are made below the awareness level of their long-term effects that can cause unintended conflict somewhere down the road. This can happen for many reasons.
  • The people involved may be playing a role that may or may not fit who they really are – or who they are becoming or have become.
  • Perhaps an extraordinary circumstance goes on and on that later comes to emphasize differences between the two people's values or situations when previously they felt similar.
  • Perhaps a person wants to be the best of who they can be, so their intent is to step into their dreams of who they want to be - no matter that they aren't quite there yet...and the other person decides they're a "lying poser" because they're in the position of cleaning up after the mess left behind.
  • Perhaps someone is going through a phase in their life where situations are changing; later they settle into what they will become that could be much different than how they were - when they were poised on the edge of the act of changing.

It's really handy if another new tacit agreement can be allowed to evolve so it can take the place of an outdated one. This benefits from taking some thought to what has worked splendidly in the past. Many of us have trouble observing and spelling out what we have done as naturally as breathing; but this is quite valuable to groom as a skill.

For instance, a couple who worked and lived together found themselves always arguing about differences they once regarded as advantages. They decided on a three-point approach to their problem; every time conflict rose up, to apologize and note down what they wanted to communicate immediately and save it to be delivered all at once at a regularly agreed time. They decided when the concerns and complaints, although some of them needed to be communicated, were too volatile to be delivered in person, they would write them down. They also decided to use classic co-counseling techniques. Then, they brainstormed to figure out what was a guaranteed fun time they could share together regularly as a break in their work day. Since they had been together long enough so they couldn't go back to "dating" per se, they decided to learn something new that they could do together. This gave chances for new experiences to happen that emphacized harmonious, constructive experiences that re-newed the significant connections of the constructive difference of the two people that had been previously making them fall apart.

How people feel about changing things usually need to be factored in.
As many people know, it's sometimes easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission - especially when the answer will always be "no" or "I'm scared." The challenge in tacit agreements is to find out how much it matters to the people involved if the agreements are done differently or are not done.

Being able to do this artfully will avoid the ritualistic ways of fulfilling the expectations of a relationship that most people must fall back on. Relationships can go sour when a person must play a role instead of being themselves because, so many roles are like jobs that can be done by others. Better for the people involved to have a means for ongoing delightful surprises and potentials that change with the times.

Sometimes the whole idea will make you feel like a turkey.

When starting a relationship and with your every action concerning the other person, you are evolving a tacit agreement of how people are supposed to treat each other. Problems come when you tacitly agree to match slightly different cultural standards, causing what could become endless confusion where these differences overlap. In that situation, tacit agreements may require you to do more than you really want to continue doing, or to accept or assign a meaning that you don't want your actions to have. This is why it's handy to clarify tacit agreements.

There are a number of ways to clear up tacit agreements gone bad.

One way is to conduct a situational 'test' that involves what the person might do if you do this or that to see what they do. Now, many of us aren't very practiced at designing these tests or interpreting them. So the longer you can go on without decided what the results are, the better, because then it allows for more experiments to be done before the conclusion is delivered.

The next step is to conduct these "tests" and indicate clearly in a positive way what you'd like the result to be or why you're wondering why they always do the same thing. This is a way to see if the person is willing to go for what you propose. You can tell them what it means to you and if they are paying attention, this may help the two of you get on the same page. A good question is how can each person have free rein to invent ways to address each other's concerns, without having to read minds?

At some point with relationships where tacit agreements are being established, you'll need or want to find out how much what you are doing matters to the other person in proportion to how much trouble it is for you. If either person can't make changes for implied or expressed agreements with their partner, it’s not good for either of them or the longevity of the relationship. Either way tacit agreements can lead to big disappointments when people figure out that the deal they thought they were making or definitions of bonding in friendship or love was quite different for their partner than they expected.

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