Compromise is a flawed model



Lisa Earle McLeod

What if everything we’ve been told about compromise is wrong?

During the 2004 election I was part of two groups in my community. One was conservative, the other was liberal. They both considered me as one of them, so I got to hear their unfiltered assessment of the other side.

I got a whole earful about “those people,” those people who don’t share our values and who are trying to derail our country.

When you stripped away the specifics, both sides were saying essentially the same thing: they were accusing the other side of having a self-serving malevolent purpose.

But I knew these people, and I knew what was in their hearts. I knew them to be kind hearted, loving, generous and patriotic. And I knew that their assumptions about each other were wrong.

While this was happening in my personal life, I began to notice a similar dynamic in business. I’m a consultant, I work with sales teams and leaders, I’ve

observed hundreds of interactions. I began to see that the my-agenda-versus-your-agenda problem was pervasive.

I saw it in the salesperson who is so focused on making their quota that they view their customer as just a number.

I saw it when the VP of Operations, with an efficiency mindset, tries to meet with the VP of Marketing, who comes from a more creative space. They battle it out until they began to see each other as the obstacle to getting anything done.

We’ve been told that when two sides disagree, we’re supposed to compromise, but that never really works.

Here’s why: when you compromise, it’s like you’re trading chips. You hold on tight to the ones that are important to you; you give away the ones that don’t mean that much, and you try to get the ones you want from the other side.

But when you’re trading chips, you just arguing over what’s already on the table, you’re not even seeing what’s possible. So you wind up with a watered down solution where nobody is happy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

I’ve come to recognize that the my-agenda-versus-your-agenda problem is not only pervasive; it’s the root of many of our other problems.

The challenge is, we can’t open the door to that new and better solution when we’re trying to battle it out, or compromise.

This isn’t just a political problem; it’s a human problem.

Compromise is predicated on the belief that you’re going to have to give something up.

When you’re overly attached to having things play out in a specific way, you don’t want to give anything up. So all creativity is lost, because instead of opening up options, you shut them down.

Our politicians aren’t going to change until we do.

We don’t have to create a perfect world; we just need to create a better one.

We’re always going to be a work in progress. Our job is to move the needle on our shift.

You don’t create new solutions by defending the existing ones. And you don’t elevate conversations by demonizing the other side.

If you want to create something new and different, you have to be willing to put your pre-existing plans on pause. You have to step into a space of uncertainty.

Because that messy, creative, uncertain, ambiguous place where both sides drop their armor and open themselves to something different, is the very place where great ideas are born.

‑ Lisa Earle McLeod, a sales leadership consultant, is the author of several books (


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