I recently listened to Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR and her guest Geoff Nunberg spoke about compromise. And a phrase he shared caught my ear. He quoted Avishai Margalit a Philosopher and Author who said, “Ideals may tell us something important about what we would like to be. But compromises tell us who we are.”
In these times of brinksmanship in the Washington, and often in business, I am struck by how we say a whole lot about what we believe in and then we do something else.
Enron’s Mission Statement had four key values:
Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence
Johnson and Johnson’s famous Credo ranked profit and shareholder value 9th after responsibility to physicians, nurses and patients, after their communities, after their employees and customers. And then in the last two years they have paid a number of fines due to bribery and misconduct.
I could share several more examples as I am sure you can. In the case of Enron and Johnson and Johnson their compromises have marred their brand, their image and their reputation. It killed Enron.
So is the lesson not to compromise? Our politicians today would like us to believe that. And yet compromise is what makes the world move forward. The key is to compromise with good intent.
What is a sale, or a regulation, or even the choice of where you want it eat with your loved one if it is not a compromise.
We compromise each and every day in all sorts of ways. We might eat the donut when we have lunch in the bakery because they smell so good; even though we are on a diet. We might shave a percentage point off of the price because we need to make quota or a revenue number for the shareholders and we need to close the deal now. We may choose a seller because we know them and even if dissatisfied better the devil you know than the unknown.
The difference is our intentions. When I negotiate and compromise with my wife about dinner and or the carpet, my intention is harmony and good will. When I compromise with a client or a buyer it (hopefully) is because we both want a win for the benefit of all.
So whether you are a politician, a family member, a business person or just a neighbor you will make compromises. And those compromises will reveal a lot about you. I believe the way we make those compromises, our intentions also say a lot about us.