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Understanding, Not Agreement


Disciplines > Negotiation > Negotiation tactics > Understanding, Not Agreement

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



When you have said yes to something, later deny that this was agreement. Say either that you said 'yes' to indicate that you understood or that the agreement was a temporary understanding, not a contract.

This may be done during a protracted negotiation, forcing a return to earlier negotiation. It may also be used in everyday life where you feel you were manipulated into an agreement or where going back on what was agreed gains more benefit than the anger and recrimination that it may trigger.


When I said 'yes' I meant 'I understand' not 'I agree'. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

You know what we spoke about was just an understanding. I think we need to talk more about it.

I feel I've been tricked. The agreement was based on an understanding that has turned out to be wrong, which makes the whole thing null and void.


There are a number of cultures in which saying 'yes' does not indicate a binding agreement, for example it may be said to save face and avoid the embarrassment of conflict. Real commitment here is gained by allowing time for reflection and the involvement of others in the discussion and decision.

In other cultures where governmental and judicial corruption is rife, even legal agreements may be worth little. In such places, agreement is based on social agreement and handshake, and even then much work needs to be done in support of the relationship to ensure commitments are completed.

Even in more familiar cultures people go back on agreements and seek to avoid legal redress. This underlines the nature of human agreement and commitment, which may be tested when we feel that expectations have not been met. A sad example of this is in the number of relationship break-ups and acrimonious divorces.

If you are unsure whether the other person is agreeing or just understanding, ask them. Check that when they say yes they are making a firm commitment. You may need to rephrase this in several ways to be sure. Also take time to explain that you are doing this because such a misunderstanding has caused problems in the past.

See also

Confusion principle

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