PQ 14.8 — Has this agreement been successful in meeting the needs it was intended to meet?
In a previous life, I worked as a manager in organizational development. A consultant to Human Resources professionals at various companies.
In that capacity, I had a large staff of trainers that I oversaw, matching their expertise with the needs of our clients. This meant that I’d evaluate trainer strengths and assign them relevant client work. When a client company had really unusual needs, I’d work alongside the trainers helping them develop custom trainings and occasionally delivering workshops myself.
It could be really fulfilling work most of the time. And fascinating.
Offloading Responsibility and Giving Validation
You’d notice odd patterns while working with so many people.
While some professionals seemed very concerned about solving the problems in their organization, a shocking number of them were really looking for validation. They wanted to know that the approaches they were already employing were sensible. To obtain a second opinion that agreed with them.
Viewed through the most cynical lens, their chief desire was to offload some of the responsibility for their choices. If an independent consultant agreed with their performance improvement plans (for example), they were better equipped to defend against any legal challenges from jilted employees.
And with some companies, I was fairly sure this was the case. It emanated off their HR department like a cloud. But in other instances, I could sense this reticence to go it alone stemmed from insecurity. They wanted emotional permission to go ahead with what was an already well-factored reasonable plan.
Additionally, I found the same patterns with my trainers myself. A lot of what I did as a manager was assuring them that I’d protect them if something they did that I’d approved didn’t go over well.
Yes, sometimes people were on the wrong path. I did have to intervene to make tweaks to presentations. And there were times when I needed to collaborate quite extensively on a training project. But my trainers were very competent in general (I’d selected, screened, and hired them because I found them to be skilled and very reliable), and the vast majority of the time were absolutely on the right path.
And yet, they still felt the need to check in — even over elements that were more or less standard operating procedures. Issues that I’d been clear they were good to go on.
And with clients, yes, there were cases in which I was asked to problem-solve extensively. To offer radical changes. Offer expert opinion. Whether or not they took my advice.
But it was far more often that clients and employees alike seemed to seek me out primarily to offload responsibility and get validation that the choices they had already made were good ones.
The Relationship Agreement as Manager or Consultant
I’ve often seen this pattern with the formation of relationship agreements. In essence, its role is to serve as manager of the relationship (and occasional consultant). And many times they’re authored in a way where they maybe don’t meet the actual needs of individuals in the relationship but instead end up serving more to offload responsibility and to validate everyone within a relationship system that they’re making the “right” choices. To act as a kind of quick self-assessment that the way that they’re conducting themselves is ethical.
I’ve written before about how I feel like rules without context are like a body without a pulse. As much as rules comfort us, give us a sense of structure, a sense of control, they can easily be just as oppressive.
Especially when formed and applied without context.
The trouble, of course, is that people find it helpful to have guidelines when they’re trying something new — for example, opening a relationship. They like having a place to start.
But much like most writers will need a couple of drafts to get their work where they really want it, it’s not at all unusual for it to take a couple of adjustments to get a relationship agreement just right.
Much of the magic stems not from the original creation of something — but from a clever edit.
It’s entirely normal — nigh expected — to find that a relationship agreement that made sense in theory works out a little differently in practice. Especially when no one involved in authoring has much or any experience in consensually non-monogamous relationships.
So rather than running from renegotiation, I’ve learned to embrace it.
Here’s a post I wrote a while back about relationship agreement renegotiation.
And here’s a post I wrote about on best practices for negotiating polyamorous relationship agreements.
For more advice on writing relationship agreements as well as examples of actual polyamorous relationship agreements, please see my book A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching.