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Understanding ReLATIONAL Contracts®: An Introduction

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Take a moment to settle in.

Spend 10 seconds, in this moment, to deepen your breaths, because I’m going to ask you to reflect on your experiences with lawyers and contracts:

Jacqueline Horani

● Think of a time you had a disagreement…

● Think of a time you interacted with a lawyer…

● Think of a time you made an agreement with someone…

● Think of a time you were in Court…

● Think of a time you had to sign a contract…

How are you feeling?

When I asked a recent workshop group what those memories felt like, the answers they gave echoed each other as the energy in the room dropped into anguish and anxiety:

- “I feel powerless”

- “What I value is not recognized”

- “It’s impossible to take care of my interests”

- “There’s a huge gap between what the law could provide and what I wanted”

- “I’m frustrated and focused on who’s got the money”

- “I feel combative and guarded”

- “Win/Lose or Lose/lose are the only options”

- “I feel frustration and anger, stress and tension”

- “I feel an urge to puke”

- “I want to be able to take care of my own needs but feel reliant on a lawyer because it’s too scary”

- “It feels like an assault on relationships”

Resonating with their experiences? If you’re unfamiliar with the Relational Contracts process, it might surprise you to learn that in less than 2 hours, those same participants were begging to continue discussing and co-creating agreements together.

“I went from wanting to escape from the room - to just reading the words ‘disagreement’ and ‘law’ - to wanting to plant myself on the ground like a toddler and demand/request we go on for hours and do this all day, every day!” -Vyoma V.

The power of the RELATIONAL Contracts® model is in its ability to catalyze a transformational paradigm shift.

In learning the Relational Contracts process, you’ll be able to bring your whole self to negotiating agreements. Say goodbye to an adversarial dynamic and the uncomfortable anxieties associated with it, and learn to be comfortable with change and uncertainty.

It’s “Beautiful, we get back our agency” – Joachim B.

In order to understand the Relational Contracts agreement difference, it will help to understand the basics of the agreements we make in our society.

What is a contract:

A contract is an agreement between two or more parties, whether it is made out loud or in writing. Put simply, an agreement is a set of promises and contracts are promises thatthe law will enforce. There are generally 3 components of a legally binding contract:

1) an offer is made,

2)there is acceptance of the offer, and

3)there is some kind of consideration—e.g. a payment or a promise to do something in exchange for the offer—involved.

The role of the court:

Our current justice system is meant to function as an enforcement mechanism. If we follow the rules of what is legally required, the court system will be there to support us if something goes wrong and enforce that the promises made are kept. However, our court system is at best ineffective in meaningfully enforcing the agreements we make and at worst intentionally unjust. Regardless of the efficacy of the legal system, most people when signing a contract either don’t believe they will end up in Court or are contracting for the express purpose of trying to avoid future litigation.

How we often experience negotiating a contract:

Traditionally we think of contracts as formal agreements where we are negotiating ‘deal points’—for example: how much will it cost, how long will it take, who will do what, etc. These are all important aspects for getting clarity and alignment on what we are agreeing to, but starting with these specifics is often starting on the wrong foot. Diving into these conversations too early invites us to focus on trying to make sure we get our ‘fair share’ rather than allowing us to look at the bigger picture. The posture we hold becomes grounded in fear as we battle to make sure we know how the burden of loss or misfortune will be divided amongst us, trying to ensure we don’t end up with the short stick. It often results in a negative experience for everyone involved and is dealt with as quickly as possible to ‘get it over with’.

The role of relationships:

What we need to remember is that contracts are really about relationships. Deal points, like the ones mentioned above, often help us to create an action plan of things to clarify and carefully consider, but they are not the focus of our relationship. When we make a contract with someone else we are choosing to agree to do something with someone and a bond or connection is formed. Respecting that bond is the basis of creating the trust that will dictate how an agreement is implemented (or not).

What defines a relationship?

A relationship is defined by how we treat each other, what we share (our vision, mission, values, efforts, benefits), our reasons for joining forces, and by what our conversations look like as we journey forward together.

Relational Contracts® facilitation encourages us to begin with the relationship and then discover our shared action plan. As Linda Alvarez— the woman who literally wrote the book on Relational Contracts —describes it, the idea is to see the potential agreement as a joining of forces between parties; to see if our shared energies and abilities can be harnessed to generate greater well-being for everyone involved— greater than if we did not join forces . We may be surprised and even inspired to co-create a vision completely different than what we thought possible when we first entered the space.

What does the Relational Contracts process look like?

Relational Contracts is the process, but there is a physical document that can be drafted that allows us to represent our relationship without the sea of legalese and fine print standard to traditional contracts. The two main components of a Relational Contract agreement are the Touchstone and the ACED. The Touchstone is where we document our shared values and reason for coming together(vision, mission, values). The ACED is an agile conflict resolution blueprint, it defines how we are going to ‘Address Change and Engage Disagreement’ together.

What we are doing is facilitating collaboration and co-creation. We are redesigning from an adversarial paradigm to a new one grounded in trust and relationship. When we engage in the Relational Contracts process, we unleash a creative power that is bigger than anything we previously imagined to be possible.

he Relational Contracts model begins with a conversation, with a series of steps before we get to writing or drafting an agreement. The way I tend to start is with a discussion of our values, our skills, our needs, and our resources. By having the parties share their own personal values, skills, needs, and resources, they are opening up and braving vulnerability. The process of witnessing another person bringing their whole selves to a conversation, and seeing their vulnerability, establishes a level of trust not met by traditional contracts. While deceptively simple, this process is incredibly powerful in transforming what happens in our conversations and what solutions are co-created out of them.

“It shifted the power dynamic to realize what we are BRINGING to the ‘contract’.” –Steve B.

This process helps us to change the dynamic of contract negotiations from an oppositional one to a dynamic of deeper listening, trust, and understanding that opens us to what wants to emerge. The more we engage in this WE-space, the more potential we have to transform not only our individual experiences but our collective culture.

To Learn More About Relational Contracts®, Go to

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