A Win-Win Decision: Why Cooperation Beats Compliance

After going through six miscarriages, we’d agreed that we should choose our new baby’s name based on what it meant, not what it sounded like. So when we arrived at the hospital six months ago, we were in full agreement that if our baby was a girl, her name would be Matilda Mae (Matilda meaning “strength” – for surviving, and Mae meaning “gift” – one we hadn’t expected but were very grateful to receive).

But there on the day of delivery, as I thought about all the feedback I’d gotten about how old fashioned the name sounded, I began to wonder whether we should select a more contemporary one. I made a compelling case to my sleep-deprived wife that our baby would surely thank us for giving her a more “current” name. I suggested we solicit input from friends and family, even our other children. The contemporary option “won” in the poll, and my wife agreed it sounded prettier.

In my own head, I recall the decision we’d made on that day as collaborative.

But it wasn’t.

arm wrestling

In fact, this is something I’ve noticed in many of my relationships lately. I’ll think a decision was made with consensus, only to discover later that it was really frustrated compliance. My memory is that we came to agreement together, but the other person’s memory is that I pushed my agenda. In decisions both big and small, that represents sacrifice (and sometimes resentment), not support.

Concessions are a natural and often necessary part of any negotiation, at work, at home… anywhere. The question is whether or not they are compliant or cooperative.

With compliance, you often get begrudging, if not cynical, acquiescence. With cooperation, on the other hand, you build a foundation of trust and mutual ownership. I intuitively realize this every time I’m in a meeting with colleagues and decide to use my power or position to push an idea.

I really want to be a leader who gains cooperation rather than compliance. I’m asking my wife to help me—at home and at work—and here’s her coaching (written by her):

  1. Listen—to all of what’s said, not just excerpts that support your argument.
  2. Recognize the primary stakeholders in the decision. Honor their input first if multiple people are involved.
  3. Clarify and align on the purpose. We’d both agreed that changing the baby’s name would sound better. But that wasn’t the point. We had moved away from our original purpose.
  4. Ask if it feels like a loss. Concessions always represent some sacrifice. If it’s cooperative, though, it will feel like a shared gain.
  5. Believe that someone’s response is their response. Let their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no.” Don’t overanalyze someone else’s thinking.
  6. Remember: The thing about decisions is…you can (often) change them, especially if you’re humble enough to shift gears.

And now, six months later, we’re legally changing our baby’s name to Matilda Mae.

Think of all the time you can save, the resentment you can avoid and the trust you can build by following my wife’s advice! How will you get cooperation instead of compliance for your next decision?



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