The Agreement Frame pattern is useful when two parties cannot agree on something. There are generally 4 strategies one can choose when dealing with disagreement:
- Get Out
- Give In
- Take Over
- Go for the Win-Win
There are certainly times when getting out, giving in, or taking over is the appropriate response, usually determined by whether the one's safety, or relationship or the outcome is the primary concern, and the other concerns are subordinated.
Going for win-win is the context where this NLP pattern is most effective, because the effort to walk through the pattern takes time and effort up front. When both parties decide the outcome and the relationship are both worth preserving, then it is worth their investment of time, effort and emotion.
When it is established that both parties must have a stake in a favorable outcome, then it is time to begin. Now let's revisit why disagreements happen in the first place... People operate from their frames, consisting of values, priorities or categories of things in the world. When these frames are misaligned and the two parties are too inflexible to see the matter through the frames of the other, then it is time to go meta... or rather assume a higher frame that encompasses the frames of the two parties.
As you walk through this pattern, it really helps to write down the answers you will get, so they are not lost sight of during the process.
1. Identify the present frames of both parties
- Ask each party in turn: What specifically do you want?
- Ask each party in turn: What is important to you about that outcome? 1 - 10?
2. Identify common themes or elements of both frames
- Is there a common ultimate outcome for both parties?
3. Identify a higher-level meta-frame that encompasses both sets of frames
- Ask each party in turn: If you get what you want, what will that do or get for you? What does it buy you?
4. Use meta-level outcomes of both parties to create an even higher meta-frame
- Ask each party in turn: And when you get that higher outcome or purpose, then what does that get for you?
5. Frame the negotiation in terms of the meta-meta-frame
By now, if there is no common ground... DO NOT PROCEED! Check again to reconfirm that both parties want to resolve the issue, and establish common ground, then backtrack as necessary until a common frame is established. If it is clear to everyone where the common ground is, then proceed.
- Ask each party to contribute solutions to making sure both sides meet the terms of the higher frame generally, while getting both parties specifically what they want as much as possible.
- If specifics must be traded off, then what can those specifics be while preserving the relationship and meeting the terms of higher frame?
6. Confirm the agreements
- Once agreements are reached and written down, confirm the understanding of the terms of the agreement with both parties mutually. Clarify, backtrack and revise as required.
When to Use this Pattern:
Use the Agreement Frame pattern when the relationship and the outcomes are both too important to sacrifice either one. This works in business, marriages, and between friends.
Sometimes the process takes only a few minutes or hours... or it can go on for days or weeks whenever the stakes and complexity are high. Very complex issues require professional and often legal counsel.
Michael Hall, Stephen Covey, Dudley Lynch and others