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Reasonable Expectations

We enter agreements every day –¬†agreements big and small, inconsequential and monumental. How satisfied we are post-agreement depends on our expectations. Dickens’ expectations were merely great; some have expectations that verge on the absurd. I recently reviewed a contract that used the language “throughout the universe in perpetuity”. I kid you not.

To all the non-lawyers out there, that means that the person drafting the contract expected to be able to keep whatever he was being given forever no matter where he is in the universe. In the Universe! Now this language may have become standard in commercial contracts, but it smacks of the unreasonable. Can a person even grant rights over something forever, anywhere in the Universe? How on Earth (or rather, in the Universe) would you even enforce that clause? Are they anticipating eventual expansion to Mars?

As absurd as this sounds, it’s probably not all that unusual. Certainly this represents the extreme, but we see unreasonable expectations from agreements every day, expectations that often lead us to conflict. People expect everything, but are willing to give little. They view their own rights and entitlements under the contract to be paramount, interpret clauses to benefit themselves alone and fail to consider reciprocal benefit. Disagreement is just around the corner.

Next time you find yourself faced with an agreement, or mired in a conflict over a past agreement, try asking yourself the simple question “am I being reasonable?”. If you were the other guy, would you give up those rights, would you grant those entitlements? Being reasonable up front usually helps us avoid the inevitable disagreement after. And being reasonable in the disagreement usually helps promote effective resolution.

Posted on September 12th, 2011 by Renee