We often assume that everybody we talk to about something leaves the conversation with the same perspective. We all agree on a range of topics and we continue on with our lives. We think that because we were all in the same room discussing something and no one disagreed then that means there shouldn’t be any confusion later down the road.
The problem is that our words can only ever capture a portion of what it is we’re trying to say. These words can then be understood completely differently by other parties. The worst part is that no one is aware of the gaps in understanding. In the future, when these cracks appear, it’s impossible to go back into that moment to find out who said what and, perhaps more importantly, who didn’t say what.
Meeting summaries can help with this, and they definitely have their place. But approaching the possibility of a written, signed contract shouldn’t be feared.
The perception of the seriousness that a legal document carries can be leveraged to help parties understand that this isn’t a meeting summary to simply go into the archives and never read again. Instead, this contract is a document that needs to be read and understood before one agrees to it.
This seriousness can be bundled in a friendly “non-binding” agreement such as an MOU. You can give a full explanation that there is no need for this to ever reach a court, but “just to make sure that all parties are on the same page”.
In situations where a contract may help, it’s not to say that any particular party is in the wrong, the real enemy is words. Words can be deceptive and whilst we may use them verbally, we can’t always control how they are understood. Sometimes they just play tricks on us, so we have to use them against themselves and set out it out in writing, trapping them in place.
A simple contract can relieve a lot of the confusion that we face in our discussions and it never needs to be exercised formally, it just needs to sound formal. The ideal situation is actually that the contract is never looked at again. Its true purpose is to make sure that we’re all using the same words to reach the same understanding when we’re coming to an agreement.
The power of a signature is that it mentally commits a person to actually read and understand what they’re agreeing to.