Confession #2: I rely on “The Four Agreements” as my professional bible

Years ago, an SDA member from a Florida chapter turned me on to The Four Agreements (by don Miguel Ruiz). Before she told me about that book, I knew there was something special about her, something I admired about her, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint why. I knew she was a professional in the true sense of the word. She was a great role model, and I was attracted to her overall demeanor and how she carried herself each year when I saw her at SDA conferences. Then, I think it was in St. Louis when she suggested I read The Four Agreements. She may have even said I needed to read that book, which of course prompted me to run right out and buy that book.

The Four Agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t make assumptions.
  3. Don’t take anything personally.
  4. Always do your best.

Amazing agreements, don’t you think? They really are, and if you apply them in your work life, you’ll feel so much better about yourself, and your ability to get along with others, and you’ll know your professionalism (your demeanor, your values, your ethics, your personality, your style) is pretty much a right-on match for the office. (I speak mainly about work life here, but living those four agreements in your personal life is a cool thing to do as well. In fact, I’m 99.9% sure that if you adopt any or all of those four agreements in your work life, they will naturally spill over into your personal life.)

Be impeccable with your word. This is a hard one for most people, I suspect. I know it is a challenge for me, especially when someone at work wants to stop by my desk to chat and then they start whispering so others in the surrounding cubicles can’t hear them. When they start whispering, I feel like they are starting to gossip. I still haven’t found the ideal reaction to stop them in their tracks and to not allow them to start whispering (gossiping?). The SDA colleague from Florida that I told you about? She will come right out and say “DON’T GO THERE!” if she thinks you are going to start talking (gossiping/whispering) about other people. Yes, I wrote that in capital letters to indicate that she sometimes raises her voice as loud as she thinks it needs to be raised in order to let you know she really, really means you shouldn’t talk about other people or if she thinks you are going to say something inappropriate. It’s quite effective and tends to put one in their place. So while it’s challenging for me to help others be impeccable with their word, I know I’m getting better (at work anyway) of trying to consistently speak with integrity and to not speak against others. (I wish other admin staff would take this first agreement to heart, because even the appearance of gossiping is damaging to one’s career growth. I’ve witnessed how non-admin staff view how the actions of a few admin staff apply to the entire admin group; not good, not good at all, and certainly not fair. They must be assuming, ya think?)

Don’t make assumptions. This second agreement is much easier for me. I’m not a mind-reader and I don’t know anyone who is (do you?), so I don’t know what others are truly thinking or feeling, or what type of morning they have had before they arrive work (unless of course they share that information with me). I once looked up the definition of assume and presume, and learning that presume is based somewhat on probability and/or proof, I think I’ve got it now, and I find myself saying presume a bit more. Unless someone shares information with me to make me think otherwise, assuming I know what they are doing, thinking, or feeling could lead to conflicting interactions and less than ideal work relationships.

Don’t take anything personally. If I had to take a test on this third agreement, I would definitely get a 100%. Seriously! I’m not sure how, but I learned a long time ago to not take things personally. And it’s one of the things I do, when serving as a mentor to other admin staff, is to tell them not to take it personally. I explain to them that at work, it really comes down to the processes or procedures being flawed, broken, or weak, and that’s what is usually causing the problem; it’s not them as a person. Once the root problem of the process/procedure is identified and fixed, the problem goes away. Now you might say, “Wait a minute, Judy. It really is George Weston’s fault because he didn’t follow the procedures; so it is the person,” and then I’m going to start asking you more questions to get to the root of the problem, and chances are, we will both find that George is not following procedures because he wasn’t trained properly in the first place. Thus, it’s a lack of training that’s causing the problem, not George or his personality. (If you think George is just a lazy ass, then go have a talk with George. Drill down with enough questions—keep asking why—and you might discover that George’s productivity isn’t up to speed because George isn’t getting enough sleep at night due to his newborn son who has colic. He’s really not a lazy ass after all, now is he?) Take personalities out of the equation and instead look at the processes and procedures.

Always do your best. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to work, failure isn’t in my vocabulary (and neither is mediocre, for that matter). I have, however, learned to have more patience with others, and I’ve learned how to sometimes let go of perfection (though I have to admit, it still bugs me when work-related items such as reports and flyers go out the door with errors that could have been/should have been caught beforehand, especially if an admin produced those documents, me included). Yes, I’ve been called a perfectionist (and more often than not by other admin staff). I can tell you when I became more of a perfectionist, if that’s the term you want to use to describe me. Quite frankly, I like to think of that part of me as the manager of quality control/quality assurance (QA/QC). When did I become more of a QA/QC’er? When the firm began its TQM (total quality management) training sessions. I embraced that TQM concept wholeheartedly. It was my first experience with an entire group of people getting on the same page with the concept of “do it right the first time.” You identify the root causes and then work to eliminate the barriers and defects. So while I probably always had the fourth agreement in me, it was strengthened so much more when I became involved in TQM. That changed my way of thinking about how admins especially (you know, the staff who are stereotypically supposed to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed) should embrace the do-it-right-the-first-time attitude, wanting to always do their best. (Because after all, we—admin staff—are perfect, aren’t we? 🙂 )

By the way, you don’t really need to read the full-length edition of The Four Agreements. There is a mini-sized book (3-inch by 4-inch) that has just the Agreements (a very easy read, and it comes with a cool, leaf charm bookmark)—it’s called “Wisdom from the Four Agreements.” Last time I ordered one of those small books, it was less than $6.00. If you are interested in that tiny book, take a look from this link:

So, I would love to hear from you—which of the Four Agreements challenges you the most, and why?


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