When I read about business leadership, rarely do I find a nugget of wisdom so concise and relevant to work as well as the rest of life, as “disagree and commit”. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, made this phrase a guiding leadership principle for running his company. In his 2016 Letter to Shareholders, he describes how this phrase saves time and costs, and more importantly, prevent stagnation.
Making quality and quick decisions is one of the four tenets of the “Day 1” mindset by which Amazon operates. Bezos encourages the use of the phrase “disagree and commit” as a way to recognize differences in opinions in a group but takes acceptance of differing viewpoints one step further to unite a team with an actionable commitment. This approach means that each member of a team is working towards a common goal, regardless of their personal opinions about any particular decision.
In essence, “disagree and commit” is a conflict resolution strategy that enables consensus over compromise. In negotiation, a compromise is an often exhausting process in which each party argue back and forth to justify a solution in which each gives up something they want in order to get something they want more. Although the result represent a “middle ground” between the interests of both parties, it is often the case that one side ends up feeling like they “won” while the other side “lost”. In contrast, consensus begins with an identification of shared values results in a dialogue where the needs of both parties are evaluated, resulting in a more “win-win” outcome.
Compromise and Consensus in marriage
Both my husband and I are rather opinionated individuals, and more often than not, our arguments end in debates rather than resolution. Much of our time has been spent in futility, trying to persuade each other to our respective points of view.
Indeed, we are not alone. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work, relationship scientist John Gottman, whose claim to fame is developing a method that predict divorces with over 90% accuracy from observing a couple talk about a past conflict, identifies two types of problems in every marriage: solvable and perpetual.
Perpetual problems stem from irreconcilable differences in personality or lifestyle needs. Changes in personality and values are hard to make, even when a person wants change, and almost impossible when a spouse wills it. As such, there is a need to accept (with or without agreeing with) a spouse. Here are some ways to deal with problems without persuasion:
1) Agree to Disagree
This has more than once ended our arguments, but it is exactly that: an endpoint. No action comes from it as it is a form of avoidance (a coping method for sure, but probably in the long term not a healthy one for a relationship). It has its uses in cooling off after an argument and revisiting the problem later on.
Compromising is one way, but it is usually is a test of endurance. On the surface, meeting halfway sounds nice, but where that halfway actually is a matter of discussion, one that is still subject to the futility of persuasion (only about something else), and therefore impractical.
3) Disagree and commit
“Disagree” allows for the expression of opinion and the opportunity for the other to empathize. “And” suggests that disagreeing and committing are not mutually exclusive. “Committing” allows for the expression of responsibility, so that even if you disagree, you cannot pin your partner later on with, “I told you so!” It is the best, in my opinion, and something to strive for.
Making Timely Decisions
A underlying benefit of “disagree and commit” is that ability to make decisions in a timely manner. No one denies that informed decision-making requires the gathering of facts and opinions. However, the majority of decisions, in business as well as in life, needs to be made with incomplete information and often with a deadline. This was most evident when enrolling our daughter for childcare and preschool, and certainly the first of many major decisions with as many unknowns.
When asked, “What does Day 2 look like?”, Jeff Bezos said, “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death.” Substitute “Day 2” for “indecision”, and it would read true. As humans, our uncomfortably with uncertainty is universal. There are sometimes merits of “waiting and seeing” but we must be aware of using this as an excuse to postpone a decision indefinitely. If we are honest with ourselves, delaying a decision (or any commitment, really) is often how we deal with a fear of being wrong. By accepting ourselves as humans, and accepting that there will be times when we are wrong, we are in a better position to commit responsibly and live fully.