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.

One Comment:

  1. Interesting topic John. The question I ask myself is, “What am I willing to compromise on?” or even more directly, “What am I NOT willing to compromise on?” To me when I am not willing to compromise on something it is because it is so important to me and is part of my core values that compromise would go against who I am. For example, like you I am often asked to compromise on my price. And within reason, I may do so. But if I’m asked to compromise the quality of what I’m doing, then I am not willing to do so. The quality of what I deliver is critical to my view of myself and my core values. My price is certainly important, but less so than quality.

    When congress talks about compromise they have to identify what THEIR core values are and what they are willing to compromise on, and what they are not. And often times these ideas may cause internal conflict for our representatives. For example, if I say that having a balanced budget is something that I won’t compromise on, then you have to wonder what I will compromise on to make this happen. Am I willing to raise taxes? Cut benefits and programs? The problem is that posturing often overtakes real values and common sense as well.

    Compromise is the art of making sure that everyone gets what they need. How much are we willing to give to see that others needs are met as well.

    Excellent topic…. thanks for posting this…


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