Friday, July 27, 2007

Living and Working to the Four Agreements

Some years ago, Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a book called The Four Agreements. It’s lessons are as powerful today as they were when they were first published:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t assume
  4. Always do your best
All simple truths and excellent principles for inner happiness. Let’s face it, always doing your best and being impeccable with your word are pretty good foundational principles for anyone. And “don’t assume” is unbeatable as sound advice for life and for business. How many times are inaccurate assumptions the root cause of problems? Too many in my experience. In the end, communication and empathy are key. Think how often business gets derailed by someone taking something too personally. The only way through is to stay focused on the idea, the issue, the facts and the solution. Check your ego at the door and you’ll be amazed at how fast stuff can move, and how even the most complex issues can be resolved. This is not even to mention the reduced damage to your psyche, and the subsequent improvement in your happiness quotient. The Four Agreements has been around for a while, but it's a book that is definitely worth reading.


Susan956 said...

Ok Kevin, were we twins separated at birth as I can't believe how often lately you have written about something that I have been discussing with others or considering! Not snow or umbrellas tho :)

All right, I will put my hand up and admit that one of THE hardest personal issues I've had to address is making assumptions. I've done it, not because of ego in the way I think you meant that here, but because of fear. I've assumed failure or rejection will transpire and jumped in with assumptions and turned away.

Suddenly in my early 50's I have taken the reins on that and done two things - chosen to risk and keep trying despite certain rejections. NOT assuming those rejections have anything to do with my worth; they don't. Half the time it's actually *because* of my worth I'm being given a 'no'. Now that sounds ego but two recruiters pulled me into round 2 or 3 only to tell me I was a questioner and that that the employer didn't want a creative thinker. Fair enough. Those outcomes may be hard in fiscal ways but they're doing me a favour. One recruiter was right, I would wilt after a month or so and need to keep going and locate something more suitable.

However, *instinct* and faith can take the place of assumption and that's what I'm working to run with.


Yesterday on a craft forum a moderator created all manner of problems by making an assumption about what the poster's intention and motivation was. In doing this and making a meal out of it, she brought about the very problem she had wanted to avoid.

I also very much believe in the old concept of a gentleman's and gentlewoman's word. I look for crediblility, believability, people who can suspend and genuinely listen, flexibility, people who offer balanced feedback and are not too afraid to say "well done". People who offer this up the chain as well as down.

We are, in my opinion, a society way too geared to negative commentary. Adults could well spend a little more time providing positives to others.

The breakthrough for me re critical commentary about my writing came when I completed my Master's degree. I had a substantive head shift moment and since that period I have faced *heavy* critique on my writing - say in publication review et al - and I am absolutely fine with it. I don't feel marked or put out or picked on. I just embrace it and have enough gumption to provide a written defence to some issues as well as to totally accept the pov of another has credibility and I would do well to listen and take on board - and amend.

I also like the cover of the Four Agreements book.

CONSUL said...

The Four Agreements of the wise Mexican Don Miguel Ruiz is indeed a marvelous book that should be obligatory lecture at school.

It`s one of these books I read once a year.

It`s a very useful code of personal (even collective) conducts inspired by the civism, wisdom and philosophy of the Toltecs, the ancestors of the Aztecs and based on self limiting attitudes.

Target is freedom (of suffering) and reach happiness by using the 4 basic guidelines.

I`m very glad you mention this book, Kevin.

I would also mention and recommend “The Voice of Knowledge”, of the same author.

Josephine said...

kevin as my girlfriend crysta would say...le sigh...

All I have to say is, I think anyone who wants to go into business ought to read a book on how best to be emotionally intelligent and how to build relationships that will help and not hinder your aspirations.
I never thought that if I was ever going to tell someone else the most important lesson that I've learnt so far in business that it would be..."humility, honesty, humour and heart are the building blocks of any relationship business or otherwise."

To integrity, empathy and lovemarks all over the place..

thanks josephine

Piotr Jakubowski said...

Another great book I feel is "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey. It outlines the basics of creating relationships and being, well, an effective person.

Its good to see that somebody has condensed them even further, and placed emphasis on certain aspects. Always do your best is key, because when one puts out as much effort as they can, they can be assured that the time was well spent regardless of the result. I think that not taking things personally is also a very important point. People lately have been taking things a little too seriously, and it's always important to find that inner child once in a while - to let loose and laugh.

Josephine said...


Oh yes enchantment and the inner child, the key to a healthy, happy and fulfilling life.

Going to surf about the Mr Covey book.


Josephine said...

Hmm KR, Susan, Kempton, Piotr et al, I have to wonder what planet I've been on for a while. There's nothing more cringe worthy than looking back at a life journey-in this case my postings and thinking hmm ok yes and the reason you posted this was..???

I must confess that sometimes my head is so in the clouds that everything comes out like a day dream and at other times I am so busy not listening that I write before reading-comprehending-absorbing and then thinking, is it actually appropriate for me to comment now and in this way?

Ok so a more mature post now that I have actually spent some time contemplating what the four agreements are and how they can be used to be a better person both in and out of business.

I don't want to take up too much of your blog space Kevin but please let me write this because it's really to say how important this one post has been in changing me and my feelings about me and how I interract with people both in and out of business.

When it comes to the assumption part I am with Susan, I have often made huge assumptions not in order to be rude but because I simply feel so passionate about something that I just want to wade right in and let everyone know yes I guess that would be assuming..

Susan said,
However, *instinct* and faith can take the place of assumption and that's what I'm working to run with. ( Susan I agree)

In terms of being impecable with your word-I've had to detangle this rule from the words secrets and confidences, each have positive or negative meanings depending on the subject matter.
In terms of gentleman's agreements-yes it is absolutely important to keep one's word and not to give your word if you don't know how to keep it or think that you can't but once you say you'll do something you have should do it. This inspires trust and confidence in you and it also helps i think to develop likeability (if that's a word)

I also think that sometimes it's important to have honest, gentle communication where everybody says what they expect from the other person(hope that all makes sense). I know I truly respond to guidance in the appropriate contexts.

(don't take things personally)

By nature I move from being a fierce lioness (leo sign) to being a kitty cat-this ying and yang to me means that I often find myself getting deeply hurt by things that really shouldn't bother me so much and I've worked out that insecurity and lack of self confidence can be a hindrence-what have i began to do? I've started to build up my personal authenticity, to learn, to read more, to connect with others who teach about good conduct. I allow myself to have my ups and downs but at my core I am and have always been a very optimistic and happy person at heart-letting go of responsibilty for the entire planet (grin) gives me the freedom to address the things that are important so I take fewer things personally-my perspective and perception about the world is changing, developing, getting more beautiful and mature.

Finally KR, I am pushing myself everyday to do MY best-not someone else's best but the best that I-Jo can do-and my goodness just accepting that has done wonders for me spritually, psychologically and yes I agree applying all my learning to all that I do (business or private) had done huge amounts for my happiness quotient and my self respect.

Thanks again for this wonderful post KR.


canadiankid said...

As a restatement of oft-stated ancient truths, my first thought on reading the Four Agreements was: why restate them?

Second Question: Why are these oft-restated truths claimed as Toltec Wisdom? (They are not). One has only to compare them with, say, the Bible, The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, Autobiography of a Yogi, The Heart Sutra, The Vedas, Patanjalis Yoga System, the sayings of Milarepa (and Jesus) and so on.

The astute observer will wonder why Don Miguel chooses the Pyramid of the Sun (YouTube clip) to convey his message. The Pyramid of the Sun was not a holy place, it was a place of torture and sacrifice, as evidenced by recent excavations. The Toltec did indeed worship: they worshipped their brutal and militaristic rulers - obsessed with conquering and killing. He chose the wrong place to deliver his message. (He made an "assumption" that this was a holy place.

Additionally, speaking directly, and so on does not work in all cultures (e.g. Japan, where indirect locution is the norm, and direct locution can cause all kinds of social havoc). Making assumptions is the norm in science, and in diplomacy and many other fields. (A scientific theory, is essentially an assumption for instance). An admonition to do one's best is a non-statement: people do this automatically. An evaluation of "one's best" is subjective. Doing one's second-best, is actually the same as doing one's best on a given day, or at a given moment. If I chose to do second-best on a math test, you can be sure it was really the best I could have done at that time.

Also, taking things personally is a useful goad to self-improvement. Being "impeccable" with one's word sounds to me like a grammar mistake. Speech comes in many varieties. Monks and wise-men sometimes mumble or speak in parables (non-direct communication). Some (like advanced yogis) don't speak at all.

I would rather rewrite these rules as:

1. Speak however you like. Mumble if necessary, or if you feel like it.
2. Take things personally if it will improve you and others.
3. Make assumptions - always.
4. Do your second best (because that was your best), and be happy with it.

I have a longer version (10 pages) of this critique which I'll put up shortly.