The Real T&C’s

We all know what T&C’s are, the TERMS & CONDITIONS that ensure the exchange we are about to encounter is communicated and fair to both parties. Usually, these are related to a business transaction with an individual or another business.

According to the Business Dictionary, T&C’s are defined as “General and special arrangements, provisions, requirements, rules, specifications, and standards that form an integral part of an agreement or contract.”

Most often we read the T&C’s when we are engaging in a relationship for the first time and the parties are unknown to each other or a relationship lacks trust. You buy a Groupon and read the ‘fine print’ of the offer to ensure you can redeem within the specified T&C’s.

Why do we do this? Why do we feel the need to write these T&C’s as well as read them? I’m going to propose that it’s because we have used the wrong words for T&C’s and the wrong definition. What if, the real issue is not the Terms & Conditions (further referred to as the technical T&C’s) but the TRUST & COMMUNICATION (further referred to as the soft T&C’s) between two parties. When someone clearly communicates and is trustworthy would you ever be concerned with the fine print? Probably not. Let’s take the Nordstrom policy and effect. When you shop at Nordstrom, do you read the return policy? No, because they have built a reputation of trust and communication with their customers and within the industry of a ‘no questions asked’ return policy.  The trust that has been built with their consumers is deep and evokes deep loyalty. So can we then take it a step further and assume that if you want your customers to remain deeply loyal, no matter what your technical T&C’s are, your soft T&C’s need to be fair and consistent? You’ll always have the outliers that want to bend and stretch the technical T&C’s but that’s generally because they themselves are not often givers of the soft T&C’s.

Which brings me to the office. It’s one thing to talk about T&C’s with your customers but as leaders in an organization, I’d like to suggest that we too have operating technical T&C’s that often go unspoken but have huge ramifications, affecting the soft T&C’s.

Recently I sat in a leadership meeting in which the CEO reminded a group of us top leaders in the company about confidentiality among us. In my world that is a given, I trust that when we are communicating with each other, that stays between us. If I need to say to you, “This is between us.”, stating a term & condition around the conversation then we have not established trust and communication with each other. Or worse yet, in our previous communications you’ve broken that trust with me.

So then what? What does it look like in business when trust is broken and can it be repaired?  What does it look like when trust exists? I recently attended a short Stephen Covey, Speed of Trust seminar, it was mind-blowing truth about relationships and the effect of trust levels on working together. I’ll be digging into the book this month but just the brief 2 hours put practical steps to earning and growing trust among your teams. I highly recommend.

I’d like to propose to you one of the first questions that Mr. Covey asked us, “What does it look like working with someone that you really trust? How quickly and efficiently do you get things done?” By the sheer nature of the question, you are already thinking about who that person is that you trust, that you don’t have to say “this is between us” that you don’t have to frame terms and conditions around because you’ve built trust and communication. You work together efficiently, have higher levels of output and frankly, enjoy the encounters. Not only that, you have a deep sense of loyalty to that person and/or team, you have the Nordstrom effect in place.

You can also do the reverse. You know that person or team that you don’t trust, that communication is constantly framed with old-school terms and conditions, which are also called CYA’s (Cover Your Ass) in a working relationship, because you aren’t sure that things will be followed through with, done right, and there is certainly no loyalty between you. So what do you do? You don’t have a choice, you have to work with this person and/or team.

I’d like to offer four basic steps to surviving beyond terms and conditions to trust and communication. Be YOU! You can only control you. You can not make an untrustworthy person or team trustworthy. You can control you and your trust level. Be you, by being a person of your word, character, and integrity. Do what you say you are going to do. Be loyal, be Nordstrom to others around you.

  1. Speak Truth – Be gentle but honest always.
  2. Meet the deadline – Work hard, make it happen, don’t say you’re going to meet it and don’t. Do what you need to do to uphold your part of the situation and do not make excuses.
  3. Keep confidentiality – I kind of can’t believe this is even an issue but it is because otherwise “gossip” in the world wouldn’t exist. The old telephone game is no game, it’s real life and it hurts people and businesses. It decimates culture.
  4. Communicate Often – I’ve found there is no such thing as over-communicating. It always says, ‘trust me’ as I reassure you that I am aware, still working on it, haven’t forgotten, am not hiding, I am on your side and what I am offering to you is consistent clarity.

Know that you can’t change others but you can change how you interact. Be the person that nobody needs to frame technical T&C’s around because you’ve built soft and very solid T&C’s.