Inches to Miles: The Danger of Unspoken Agreements

I need to let you know something: You have unspoken agreements, all of us do. Unspoken agreements are behaviors or actions that we adhere to without giving them verbal permission to be in our lives. 

For example, one unspoken agreement is that we give a five-minute grace period at the start of a meeting. The meeting is supposed to begin at 10, but everyone knows I’m not going to start talking till 10:05. As a result, the unspoken agreement is that everyone can be five minutes late. No one is doing it maliciously, but we’ve all agreed that there is no clear punishment for being late to this particular meeting. 

Here is the struggle with unspoken agreements: If you give people an inch they’ll take a mile. It starts with a five-minute grace period and then someone chooses to push it to seven minutes. Eventually, people stop coming at all. Or, someone else in the room shows up “on time” and as a result feels like his time isn’t valued. 

The same thing happens in our relationships. I used to make jokes at my wife’s expense. It wasn’t that I was trying to be mean, but everyone laughed so I thought it was okay. One joke turned into several, and all of a sudden it was no longer a joking matter. I had hurt my wife’s feelings. It wasn’t until she told me how she felt that we were able to reset the agreements. 

Unspoken agreements have offspring known as resentment and anger. The reality is that unspoken agreements creep into our lives and slowly change from the exception to the rule. So when we continue to let unspoken agreements run loose in our relationships, we end up setting ourselves up for failure. Eventually, unspoken agreements will continue to grow unless we take courageous steps to speak the desired outcome with truth. 

Remember this: You are the only person who can speak your mind. 

Where do you need to define your agreements?