Recently my wife and I had a disagreement about how to wash the dishes. She’s a big fan of throwing every single thing into the dishwasher, which I largely applaud. But occasionally there’s an exceptionally dirty pot that needs more vigorous attention than our meager dishwasher can provide, and so I’ve argued to have those items treated separately. We had a similar disagreement about how to when to take clothes out of the dryer. For my wife, it must happen immediately; for me, it must happen when I need to wear whatever’s in there.
Now that you know how riveting our home life is, I’ll let you in on another little secret – in both instances we found a workable compromise. That shouldn’t really be surprising, but in the last year or so there have been far too many people in this country who have attacked the notion of ‘compromise’ as though it is both weak and unacceptable. Various prominent people (mostly politicians) have actually bragged about their disinterest in working with people who disagree with their point of view. It’s a dialogue that threatens to seriously undermine our nation’s future.
And I’m not saying this out of some desire to take the moral high ground. I’m saying it as a pragmatist. Far from being a weak approach, compromise is one of the best ways to strengthen everything we do, from our marriages to our businesses to our country.
Here’s the business case: companies that have at least one woman on their board of directors outperform those with all-male boards. A 2015 study found that those all-male companies are missing out on over $430 billion in profits as a result of their homogeneity.
Compromise has political benefits as well. For example, Sam Rayburn was one of the most successful politicians in U.S. history. He holds the record for the longest tenure as Speaker of the House (17 years), served in office for over 49 years, and has a building named after him. There are probably several reasons that he was so successful, but two of them are mentioned more often than others – first, that he refused to accept any gifts, favors, or salaries from anyone that might cause a conflict of interest; and he was readily able to work with both conservatives and liberals.
It is the nature of compromise to try and see where other people are coming from and understand the merits of a different point of view. But when it comes to uncompromising positions, the same tolerance simply doesn’t apply. So let me state plainly something that I believe with every fiber of my being. If our country were run at every level – city, state, and federal – entirely by uncompromising Republicans or uncompromising Democrats, we wouldn’t still have a country. And if your business culture is dictated by a management team that believes they’re the only ones whose ideas are worth paying attention to, then your business is not as successful as it should be.
Bottom line – compromise isn’t simply “the right thing to do.” It’s the most effective thing to do. Listening to others and incorporating their ideas into your own is the cornerstone of every good thing we’ve ever accomplished, because nobody has a monopoly on knowledge. That’s the promise of free speech, that everyone will say what they think, that a lot of us will disagree along the way – but that through all of the conversations that follow will come the next best way forward.
And if you still don’t think compromise is important, then please invite me over to your house sometime. Because I’d love to see how that works in your personal life. “My spouse always does everything I say, and he/she is quite happy to let me guide our family in every matter large and small.” If you’ve figured out how to make that work, I want to know your secret. Because my wife is not quite that understanding.