David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

Don’t Compromise – Take Turns

post # 91 — May 30, 2006 — a Careers, Client Relations post

As part of leading discussions on the keys to great business relationships, I often ask seminar participants what they think the keys to great relationships are in personal life.

Frequently, someone will say “Compromise” and I think this is dead wrong. Compromise means neither party gets what they want, and both sides end up unhappy.

Instead, the secret is “Take Turns!”

Some of the time, the focus is on one person, fulfilling their needs, and some of the time the focus is on the other person. This way, both sides experience the other party wholeheartedly paying attention to them, and doing things that they want.

The principle applies to business. Employees know that most of the time, the organization is going to be run for the benefit of the owners and the bosses. But if occasionally, just occasionally, the employees needs become front and center and receive true attention, the commitment to the relationship is strengthened.

Don’t pretend that my interests are always taken into account in your decisions – I know they are not. Don’t attempt to make small token gestures, giving me unsatisfying, tiny pieces of what I want.

Periodically, make me the focus and give me a major part of your attention – and I’ll hang in there through the rough spots of our relationship.

Taking turns doesn’t have to be an even-handed 50-50 proposition. I just need to know that you can be fair, equitable and just, and recognize that we both have to contribute to make this relationship work. And you do that when *I* get to be front-and-center. It’s not ALWAYS about what you want.


Bill Sherman said:

Very nicely put, David.

For me, it comes down to three steps:

1) Signal your intent to take turns. You can wow someone when you say, “Today, let’s focus on you. I’d love to hear about your needs and your dreams.”

2) Listen genuniely to what the person tells you. Give them your attention and ask probing questions.

3) Act in ways that will move them towards their needs and their dreams.

posted on May 30, 2006

Bill Peper said:

Thanks David for raising yet another critical topic.

Several months ago, I wrote an extended reflection on selflessness. I believe that all of us are called to far exceed the principles of reciprocity and/or taking turns in serving those we encounter.

Here are a few brief excerpts of the reflection that I believe to be relevant to this blog:

If you perform a gratutious act of kindness, you will receive many benefits of the doubt later in the relationship. Kindness has a longer shelf life than carbon.


There is not much effort made to “give” in typical business “give and take” exchanges.


People will resent or discount offers to help if they detect conditions or ulterior motives behind the favor.


Selfless people run the risk that some may try to take advantage of their charitable disposition. Our talents must not be spent in accord with strict principles of justice (does this person deserve this favor?), but rather according the logic of love (why wouldn’t I place myself and my talents at the service of others?). Habitually acting out of love is the ultimate business advantage.


Once the recipient of kindness is convinced that the giver truly wants what is best for him/her, the level of trust and intimacy skyrockets.


Power in a great relationship is shared, and not possesed by either—even if the relative contributions are unequal.

posted on May 31, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Thanks to you, Bill, for yet another excellent contribution,

Do others subscribe to all this, or aree Bill and I just getting too naive and idealistic here?

posted on May 31, 2006

Jimmy Campbell said:

I do not present seminars, speeches, not write published articles ergarding these subject matters, so I guess I am somewhat naive. But what is compromise if it does not include taking turns? Taking turns is just another method of compromise. If I think in terms of personal relations, taking turns is an essential to good personal relationships.

However, I may not understand how it relates to the business environment. I work for a large corporation. At what point in time does large business give a turn to the employee? The bottom line always comes down to the corporation and the stock holders. The employees are the pieces that get moved around to benefit those two ends. If small tokens of corporate logo trinkets, shifting increased healthcare costs, eliminating retirement monies by modifying retirement plans, decreasing or eliminating annual pay increases, eliminating stock option giveaways, cutting down or cutting out bonus plans when corporate profits and stock holder dividends are up, eliminating other benefits, and items of that nature to be a turn for the employee, then I guess the corporation does occasionally give the employee a turn. Otherwise, I do not see often where the employee gets a turn. Like I stated earlier, it has been my experience and view that large business caters to the bottom line, not the employee. It is all about making the balance sheet work for the business, especially those that trade their stocks on the market.

posted on August 26, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Jimmy, we may agree more than you think about the way most of the world IS, and also agree that most of it is dysfunctional and short-sighted.

You say most businesses act in a way that makes us (the employees) feel like thy are always looking after themselves -shareholders and bottom lines – and that we can spot it in a heartbeat. I THINK you’re saying that when business operates that way, we don’t respond with enthusiasm, but tired resignation.


But do we agree that there are some businesses and managers that care about whether their people are enthused, engaged excited?

And do we agree that IF managers occasionally focused on what we wanted in a job, then we’d give them more of what they wanted – the commitment that would produce extra profits for them?

I described some of these managers in my book PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH. They exist, and the approach works. They are just not, as you report, very common.

But don’t let thyat turn you into a complete cynic, and someone who has gieven up completely, Jimmy. If you conclude that it can never be better anywhere, you’re going to face a pretty miserable life, right? So keep looking!

posted on August 26, 2006