INTERPERSONAL CONTRACTING A Process for "Closing the Gap"

INTRODUCTION


Interpersonal contracting (IPC) is a method to achieve an end. Some basic concepts and assumptions about human nature may be helpful so that this approach can be better understood and appreciated.

I suggest that attitudes are a function of our actions and behaviors, which are, in turn, a function of the societal conditioning which each individual has experienced. In other words,

"...my attitude is my rationalization for the actions I take or ways in which I behave; those, in turn, are a function of the conditioning of my experiences and my perception of those experiences."

This premise departs from that suggested by some psychologists. They suggest that our behaviors and ctions are a result of our attitudes. My experience suggests that the opposite is true.
If one accepts the premise that attitudes are an excuse for our actions and behaviors, which are conditionally induced, then focusing on attitudes in an effort to promote, support or otherwise encourage change in behavior is simply not going to work.

I also suggest that the core values of virtually all human beings are essentially the same. When people are able to freely express their deepest values without fear of ridicule, their essential wants and values are remarkably similar.

The "demonstrated values" - those values we infer from the actions and behaviors of others - are usually not the core values of a person. Identification of a person's core values from an observation of his/her behavior is not an accurate or reliable measure of their core values.

Why?
I suggest two reasons:
  • While I believe that one's perception is fact to them, one's perception is simply that - a perception that is biased or filtered by our own conditioning, actions, attitudes and beliefs. What we perceive as another's core values - via our perception of their behavior - is only our perception.
  • No person of whom I am aware is capable of behaving or acting - all the time - in ways that are truly consistent or congruent with their core values. Societal conditioning plays an extraordinary role in influencing our behaviors away from our core values at times. For example, men are not supposed to be sensitive, emotional or caring since they would be perceived as gay or "not macho". Women are not supposed to be assertive, decisive, career-minded, lest they be characterized by similarly indictable descriptors
Numerous other examples in both our private and work lives could be cited. Suffice it to say that the environment in which we all live and work, coupled with our own fallibility, cause us to be unable to act in ways that are consistently congruent with our deepest core values. In other words, none of us would get an "A" on our ability to behave consistently in ways that are congruent with our core values.

In summary,
- attitudes are our excuse for the ways in which we
behave;
- actions and behaviors are heavily influenced by our conditioning which also deters us from articulating our core values;
- the core values of most people, when they are able to express them are essentially the same;
- our perception of the behaviors and actions of others as an indicator of that person's core values is extremely unreliable;
- attitudes can only change when actions and behaviors are enabled to change by dealing with the effect of conditioning and our perceptions of those behaviors;
- all human beings continuously fail to behave 100% of the time in ways that are truly in concert with their core values.

INTERPERSONAL CONTRACTING AS A VEHICLE


Given the suggestions outlined above, there are various processes by which people can move toward behaving more in concert with their core values. One of these processes is interpersonal contracting which can best be described as a process by which people, who appear to have a shared set of core values, can address the specific actions or behaviors that are perceived to be inconsistent with those core values. This perceived gap between actions or behaviors and core values then affects the perceiver's attitudes, actions, and behaviors and even beliefs toward another individual.

The process is an approach by which individuals are able to address those specific actions and behaviors that are perceived to be inconsistent with their core values in the perception of others. [NOTE: attitudes and beliefs are NOT addressed; rather, only actions and behaviors.]

PROCESS


IPC can be done in a number of ways. What follows is a general outline of a process that can work. Groups doing IPCs and their facilitators should work together to develop a process that will fit the group's situation and needs.

Step 1:
IPC begins by bringing together individuals or a group who know each other fairly well, who interact sufficiently so that there is some experience with each others actions and behaviors and who appear to have some shared core values by virtue of at least being a part of the same organization or group.

The individuals or group discuss their core values and determine for themselves the extent of shared core values, e.g. visioning.

Step 2.
Each participant, on an individual and private basis, is asked to prepare a separate memo for each of the other individuals in the group which contains the following items:

a. In order for me to do my job better, the following are things I would like you to do LESS of: b. In order for me to do my job better, the following are things I would like you to do MORE of: c. In order for me to do my job better, the following are things that you now do that I would like you to CONTINUE doing:

Emphasis in all three items is on specific actions and behaviors, not generalities. The only rule is that there must be the same number of items in each of the three categories. In other words, if I have only two items in the continue category, there can be no more than two items in the less or more categories

Step 3.
These memos are then delivered to each individual. Each individual member takes his/her memos and lists them on flip chart paper with all the MORE's in one section; all the LESSes in one section; and, all the CONTINUE's in one section with the name of the person citing that item listed beside the item.

Step 4.
The group then reconvenes with each participant having prepared sheets with the combined information displayed. Each participant then leads a discussion of the items on his/her sheet to gain clarity on the meaning of each item. Blaming and excusing behaviors are not permitted. The purpose is to gain a clear understanding of the MORE, LESS, or CONTINUE items stated. Detailed discussion of items occurs later in the process.

Step 5.
Upon completion of this phase of the process, each individual then reviews his/her master list and eliminates any items from the list he/she does not wish to discuss for any reason. The balance of the group is not permitted to inquire as to why any item is eliminated. This is the sole right of the participant. This phase results in a list of actions or behaviors for each participant, which the participant is willing to talk about. The participant is NOT committing to any changes at this point - only to discussing the actions or behaviors.

Step 6.
Individuals then review the various items remaining on each other's list and attempt to find another person with whom a balanced pair of items can be located. The focus is to find someone who cited an item you'd like to talk about and vice versa. Each person is looking for another person with whom they can talk about actions desired that would be a "fair deal" if both were worked out in a mutually satisfactory manner.

Step 7.
These pairs, assisted by a facilitator, engage in mutual problem solving on both their stated items. One result should be a specific, written " contract" which provides for a mutually rewarding, balanced contract, which is considered to be fair by both parties to the agreement.

In addition to specific actions agreed to, the contract should also include specific measures so that both parties will know how to evaluate their respective effectiveness in carrying out their contract as well as some method for periodic review of the overall effectiveness of their contract.

For whatever reasons, it is possible that pairs may not be able to agree on a contract. Should that happen, the pair can then either "break up" and seek other individuals to work with or they can re-examine the items and input of each to find something upon which they may be able to conclude a contract. Before selecting the former option of splitting up, it may be helpful for the pair to examine the actions/behaviors that seem to be getting in the way of coming to an agreement and perhaps use that as a basis for contracting.

REAL-WORLD EXAMPLE


In one situation, the organizational leader got into work very early in the morning before the balance of the staff arrived. He prepared all the items for which he needed administrative support and placed them on the desk of his administrative assistance in the hope of giving her as much lead-time as possible in organizing her workday.

As the staff arrived, the leader would walk through the offices chatting with the staff and asking about their families. He would stop by the desk of his administrative assistance and ask if she had any questions on the items left.

Later in the morning, he would again stop by the desk of his administrative assistant and ask how she was doing on the work previously left for her. After lunch he repeated his visit to check on the status of the work.

In an IPC discussion, the administrative assistant blasted the leader with "Why do you think I'm incompetent? You keep hovering over me so that I can't get the work done!"

The leader, taken aback, said that, as the leader, he needed to know when things would be completed so that he could respond to inquiries from customers.

The administrative assistant responded, "That's all you need? You really aren't checking up on me?"

A 'contract' was written on the spot. It read: "I (the leader) will stop hovering over you and constantly checking the status of work if you (administrative assistant) will let me know by 11:00 a.m. each day the scheduled completion date and time of the work left for you."

Some two years later, the administrative assistant asked to speak to the leader. She, tearfully, reported that she was going to have to leave the organization since her significant other had taken a job in another city. She went on to say that "you went from the worst boss I've ever had to the best I've ever had and I really hate to leave."

SUMMARY

While this process may seem to be opening oneself up to barbs or criticism or creating problems where there were none before, it is important to remember two things:

1. each individual has the right to eliminate ANYTHING that individual does not wish to address; and,

2. given the premise that people share similar core values and that one of those core values is to avoid going out of one's way to hurt another, there is a high probability that the other participants share this same core value.

My experience has been that, while participants experience some levels of discomfort, in more than sixty uses of this methodology EVERY person involved - without exception - has voiced their view that this was a very helpful and positive experience for them; concrete actions have been taken to "close the gap" between espoused values and perceived behavior; and the ability of the individuals and the group to work together effectively has dramatically improved.