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posted 24 Nov 2014, 21:26 by Fiona Cram   [ updated 25 Nov 2014, 11:52 ]

How often have you been in a retreat or other meeting when the facilitator has sparked a discussion of the 'rules'. These rules are inevitably something to do with the Chatham House - something I've always associated, for some unknown reason, with boxing.

I've just come back from a Women in Philanthropy leadership retreat organised by Philanthropy New Zealand and the Centre for Social Impact. The facilitators, Akaya Windwood from the Rockwood Leadership Institute and Louise Marra from Spirited Leadership, introduced us to Agreements. (At an earlier occasion Akaya had mentioned that if they were called 'rules' she immediately went to a place of thinking about how to break them - so Agreements it was.)

We had 8 Agreements for this leadership retreat.

listen / speak from heart

We agreed to listen attentively and truly and, when we spoke, to speak authentically from our heart. This is more difficult than you might imagine. While some of us are great listeners and some of us are great talkers, we all need to balance both parts of ourselves so that we can take part in real engagement and sharing. I've heard this real engagement and sharing described as whitiwhiti kōrero and also as mutual thinking. Both terms are about us coming together to gather our thoughts, share ourselves, and learn about each other.

practice spontaneity

When we are truly listening we don't have the opportunity to rehearse what we will say when it's our turn to speak. This means we have to be open to speaking and acting in a way that is spontaneous and more connected with our true self. This can be challenging when we're so used to being in places and spaces where we have to guard our true self and keep it tucked away from inspection by others. In stepping in to this agreement we are promising to be that safe place for each other. This extends beyond speaking to holding safe spontaneous dance, song, tears, and remembrances. So we agreed to practice spontaneity.


We agreed to breathe and be to courageous, knowing that others were there to vouchsafe for us and whatever we wished to offer to the circle. It's surprising how beginning a sharing, even about a small piece of yourself, can be an act of immense courage. An agreement that encourages and supports courage is an acknowledgement that to both speak and listen is sometimes difficult and that, when someone steps up in courage, we should celebrate this and support them.

share time / brevity

It can be difficult for some of us not to want to be centre-stage, just as it can be difficult for others of us not to want to stay in the shadows at the edge of the circle. Sharing time is not just an agreement for those who usually take time, it is an incitement for those who normally take no time - encouraging them to share the time. The agreement to be brief reminds us that while it's important that we are heard, it's also important that everyone gets an opportunity to speak.

7 generations

We agreed to remember that there are seven generations of ancestors on whose shoulders we stand, and that we need to speak and act in due considerations of the seven generations to come who'll be standing on our shoulders. This is an acknowledgement that we are a moment in time, in a long line of people who came before us and a long line who'll come after us. This agreement added gravitas to our conversations and sharing as we opened ourselves to our place of responsibility as one layer of many generations.

kindness, not niceness

Hard conversations can take place when they are undertaken with kindness. Kindness is about being authentic, whereas niceness is superficial and of little substance when it comes to supporting each others' journeys. An agreement to be kind is an agreement to chose authentic, heart-felt words that speak to the substance of issues rather than to superficialities. This agreement was also about hearing words and listening knowing that things are being said in kindness. It was also a reminder that we should listen with kindness.


This is, of course, the Chatham House Rule. We are a small country, with people not far removed from one another. So while we might speak to others outside the circle about what we ourselves might have said and shared, we agreed not speak of or for others, or to seek to represent them or their views in other forums.

be present

And finally, we agreed to be present. Even though we might drift off this agreement encouraged us to re-focus on being present as a listener, a speaker, an observer. This is sometimes hard in a fast-paced world where we might always be moving toward the next thing. We needed to hold fast to the 'now' so that authentic engagement had a firm foundation.