The Conversation is not ABOUT the Relationship; The Conversation IS the Relationship
Traditionally, we start our conversations about our business deals with negotiations of "deal points." This leads us to assume that the deal points define our relationship. Discovering Agreement challenges that assumption. What truly does define a relationship?
Relationship is defined by how we treat each other, by what we share (vision, mission, values, efforts, benefits), by our reasons for joining forces, and by the nature of the ongoing conversation that we have as we journey forward together.
Another common feature of traditional contract talks is that we come together and imagine ourselves as future enemies fighting projected, potential battles and deciding how the burdens of loss or misfortune will be divided amongst us in that imagined potentiality. We battle to get our ‘fair share'; and we negotiate terms to which everyone will concede.
Starting From A New Perspective
When we make a start with Discovering Agreement, our attention is directed first at the basis and nature of the relationship we are entering. This moment of exploration, clarification, calibration, and mutual creativity is the beginning of the ongoing conversation that you are entering together in order to bring something of value and meaning to the world and to your own lives.
The first step is to come to the conversation with an alert awareness that we are not enemies and that we wish to design a relationship that will never devolve into enemy camps. We acknowledge that when we work together towards a goal or in an endeavor, we depend on one another, on our shared goodwill and on our shared well-being.
The goal of the Discovering Agreement conversation is to express your vision, your mission, and your values with enough clarity that they can be put into words. Once you have expressed and understood the vision each of you holds for the endeavor, if you have expressed and understood the meaning that the success (or the failure) of the endeavor will have for each of you and, finally, if you have expressed and agreed on a structure for coming together to creatively and productively address the unexpected or times of disagreement, then you have a viable agreement.
Don't Let Deal Points Define Your Relationship
The deal points are your Action Plan – important to clarify and carefully consider – but not the defining features of your relationship. In fact, it is highly likely that you will have discovered in your conversation that the deal points are not the ultimate reason you are taking up the shared work; the deal points are created to serve the ultimate reason for your work.
Discovering Agreement does not suggest that we leave behind our “hard earned calluses of caution and prevention” when we sit down to plan a shared effort. It suggests, instead, that we approach the planning as a side-by-side undertaking where we are joining forces to see if our shared energies and abilities can be harnessed to generate greater well-being for everyone involved – greater than if we did not join forces.
The truth is that it is impossible to foresee every potential eventuality. Rather than subjecting your formative conversation to imagined stories of disaster or breach of trust, Discovering Agreement encourages you to set out a structure together for how you will address unexpected change and times of disagreement.
Don't Give Away Your Power
In essence, you can take this moment of inspiration and mutuality to design your own system for meeting and conducting the conversation if, in the future, you find that new circumstances have turned your well-laid plans to nonsense, or you find yourselves faced with what appears to be intractable disagreement. You will have your expression of shared vision, shared values, shared understanding and meaning – and your established structure for conversation – to bring you together for creative, productive, mutually beneficial problem-solving. You will no longer be at the mercy of an impersonal system (a system designed to serve itself rather than the true interests of those who apply to it for adjudication). You keep for yourselves the power to make decisions about next steps for your relationship and endeavour.
 The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace by John Paul Lederach (Oxford University Press, 2005)