In ‘The Four Agreements’ Don Miguel Ruiz introduces the wisdom of the Toltecs. Given the title and my specialism, my attention was hooked into how it related to contract law and contract negotiation. He says:

“Language is the code for understanding and communication between humans. Every letter, every word in each language is an agreement…If we can see it is our agreements that rule our life, and we don’t like…our life, we need to change the agreements.”

Contracts can, and often do, rule our business.

We sign agreements with directors, advisers, banks, investors, client and suppliers which rule how we run our business, how we chase and live out our dreams, and how we start to diverge from the values we had when we first started our business. To reignite the hopes, dreams, vision and values you had in the early days, you need to change your contracts.

What should you do?

Start to think differently:

1. Be impeccable with your word

You mustn’t use words or contracts ‘to blame, find guilt or destroy’ business relationships – only to build trust and keep it.

2. Don’t take anything personally

If you receive a contract you don’t like, don’t take it personally. The sender is working from their world view, not yours. If you take it personally then you will become defensive and less able to negotiate an agreement that creates a win-win for both companies. Your role is to explain why it doesn’t suit your company’s vision and values and needs changing.

Freedom of contract means you can walk away from any contract before it is signed.

3. Don’t make assumptions

By making assumptions we misunderstand others. Stephen R Covey in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ asks you to seek first to understand (habit 5). A common assumption my clients have is that ‘these terms are normal in my industry/from a big corporate/written in their contract so I have to accept them.’ It’s simply not true. You can value your expertise enough to decide a new norm. If you want to be paid within 14 days, get your hotels booked by your clients, have fancy chocolates at your workshops, then your contract can ask for this… I can’t guarantee they will agree.

4. Always do your best

Although contracts do not state that you will ‘do your best’ – preferring ‘reasonable skill and care of an averagely competent consultant’ – you can express the same idea through deliverables, outputs or products ie not what your client will receive.  5 years ago I was told that no-one could write a construction contract in just 500 words… My books and business are testament to changing the norm and creating a business that meets my vision and speaks to my mission.

As Ruiz confirms “Say no when you want to say no, and yes when you want to say yes”.

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