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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  • Pat Griffin
    December 31, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Love the name!
    Grateful for the advice.
    So respectful of your willingness to teach others through your transparency.

    • Matt Norman
      December 31, 2014 at 6:44 pm

      Thank you, Pat. We should have included you on our original poll!

  • John Crosby
    January 2, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    ALL I’M SAYING is that the Title worked to suck me in… I wanted to see how Kari helps you ‘collaborate’ around the house, cuz for the Crosby’s that usually has the shape of a little list… which if I’m wise I ‘collaborate on’! Loved this, espeically those parts that recognize how hard it is for us to perceive when we’re REALLY listening, and when I’m just strategizing to get my way while I wait to speak again. Blessings on your New Year, friends

    • Matt Norman
      January 4, 2015 at 12:19 am

      Thanks John! Nice when we get a list so that we can listen AND read each other’s wants! Happy New Year!

  • Eileen B
    January 2, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    So appreciate your transparency and willingness to share personal life examples. Giving such vivid examples helps the rest of us see the simplicity in some of the suggestions. Happy New Year to your family!

    • Matt Norman
      January 4, 2015 at 12:20 am

      Thank you, Eileen. That was a painful one to write so I appreciate you affirming the value it has for others. Happy New Year to you too!

  • Andreas Iffland
    January 2, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    Hi Matt,

    what a role model as a leader you are. What a self reflection and the ability to recognize own mistakes. Thanks for sharing.

    Kind regards from Germany

    • Matt Norman
      January 4, 2015 at 12:22 am

      Hi Andreas, thank you for your comment. Fortunately my wife helps me to reflect honestly! Warmest regards to you and Happy New Year!

  • Susan Arico
    January 5, 2015 at 3:29 am

    I love this post, Matt…. And your process, humility, and clear thinking (and communication). Appreciate your candor in sharing this story and the key elements within it.
    Cloud/Townsend’s “Boundaries” book is among the most helpful books I know, and your points #4 and #5 perfectly illustrated the ins and outs of their fourth law of boundaries: the Law of Respect (hearing and receiving another’s ‘no’).
    I like that you not just realized what had happened, but actually did a do-over on true collaboration and took the process all the way through to adjusting the decision. Admirable (not the least because Matilda Mae is, as we all know, one of the best possible baby girl names out there…)

    • Matt Norman
      January 5, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Thank you, Susan. Really appreciate your comments and reference to the Law of Respect. I’m fortunate to be able to do a do-over on true collaboration. I’m even more fortunate to now be a part of the Matilda Mae club with you!

  • Josh Dunwoody
    January 5, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    Great post Matt! I love names with specific meaning and respect your decision to use this as your primary criterion. Your use of this example to illustrate the differences between cooperation and compliance is both poignant and relevant. Thanks!

    • Matt Norman
      January 5, 2015 at 7:59 pm

      Thank you, Josh! I appreciate you affirming the choice of names and I’m glad you found the illustration relevant!