But there are times to give in and compromise. Don’t confuse the two. When you give in,
do so graciously. Take the high road. Act and feel zen.
Back when I ran my first company I fought a lot. It seemed the world was always on fire and there was some skirmish to be had. I fought with landlords (when the real estate market crashed), venture debt providers (who wouldn’t take a hair cut when everybody else had to), the board (over compensation), our competitors (over everything) and any service provider who didn’t live up to our perceived contract (recruiters, accountants, sales lead companies, web hosting companies). I guess the older & wiser that I get the more I realize that finding common ground is often better than fighting.
The guys who usually were there to talk sense into me were my close colleagues Stuart Lander (COO) and David Lapter (CFO) – both more level-headed than I. Stuart has some fighter instincts like I do but the ex lawyer in him taught him that a negotiated settlement is always better than a drawn-out fight.
I remember one of the conversation points we always had when we agreed to compromise and one I’m proud to say that I took the lead on – how to give-in graciously. I had this philosophy that if I’m going to fight I’m going to fight hard and win. If I’m going to compromise then I wanted to at least come off graciously. Many people make the mistake of giving in and being nasty.
What I always told Stuart (who handled most of the final negotiations) was, “Ok, we decided to give in. Let’s agree what our compromise is and let’s be gracious. Let’s tell them we were wrong to have fought so hard. Let’s tell them that we’re sorry about how things turned out. Let’s tell them there’s not hard feelings and we’d like to find a way to rebuild our relationship going forward.” And we did practice what we preached – it wasn’t just rhetoric.
See my view is that if you give in or compromise and you display “sour grapes” then in the end you don’t get what your really wanted AND you end up feeling miserable about the whole thing. So you lose twice. Not to mention that you gave in and the other party still thinks you’re an arsehole and probably talks badly about you in public. I’d rather choose to be zen and maintain my public reputation.
This also applies to internal company decisions. Let’s say a senior member of your team demanded a pay raise (cash or equity) and you didn’t like the way they approached you. Sometimes the right thing is to firmly but politely resist the increase. Sometimes the right thing to do is to give in completely. And sometimes the right thing to do is to compromise. That’s not the point of this post. But if you DO decide to either compromise or meet their objectives then DON’T be snide or mean-spirited about it. If you’re going to give in then lavish praise on them as you meet their request. There’s nothing worse than consenting to the increase and still having them be pissed off about it.
Developers don’t want to work yet another weekend? Need to decide whether to fight or concede. Again, don’t concede and be a baby about it making people feel badly for not coming in during a crucial hour. If you feel you need them there regardless then dig in your heels, but others say “we’re in a crunch time but you guys sure do need a weekend off. Enjoy.”
And on and on.
I got to thinking about the “lose twice” scenario this afternoon. I was at a swimming pool (on vacation) at a nice hotel near Laguna Beach, CA. They have two pools – one adult and one for children. Unfortunately (for reasons that are unclear to me – even as a parent) they allow kids in both pools. So we were sitting there in our lounge chairs when they announced they were closing the adult pool for the day because a little kid (I hope) had just pooped in the pool. Aaargh. But it was done – so what are you going to do about it? Zen.
The lady next to me would not let up. She was ranting about why it should still be OK to go in the pool (“in my day kids always pooped in the pool,” “a little poop never hurt anybody,” “how can you complain about poop when everybody wears suntan lotion & chemicals into the pool!”) I’m not exaggerating when I tell you she was still ranting 30 minutes later. All I kept thinking was, “you’re losing twice, lady.” Once because you can’t swim in the adult pool and twice because you’re so worked up about it you’re miserable x10. I had to leave so I guess I lost twice, too. Beatch.
It reminds me of when somebody cuts you off in their car on a highway. Sure, he (and let’s face it – it’s always a “he”) is a jerk. But you can’t change it. Aside from being dangerous to chase him and wag your finger at him, you’ve suddenly gotten your heart rate up 20 points. You lose twice.
There are many times in life where taking the wrong path causes you to lose twice. Know the difference between fighting (and enjoying it) or giving in, letting go of the angst and choosing to be zen. So in business when it’s time to fight – fight. When it’s time to concede or compromise – do so graciously. Don’t lose twice.