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November 10, 2011

News & Opinion: Stephen Covey says compromise is for chumps

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 11:03 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

If there were a man who could boldly claim to have written a book that can help solve “Life’s Most Difficult Problems,” it would be Stephen R. Covey. Covey came onto the scene after writing The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People in 1989. Seven Habits is included in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, has sold 15 million copies in all its iterations and has been translated into 38 languages. Overall, Covey has sold more than 20 million books across at least 10 titles, mostly because they resonate with people and help them meet challenges and improve their lives.
In his latest book, The 3rd Alternative, Covey blasts the two-alternative approach to disagreements – you know the one where Republicans say my way or the highway and Democrats say the highway unless it’s my way. He says that the most common solution to these standoffs is compromise. One can almost hear the word stick in his throat, even though it’s written. Despite the pejorative connotation the word has taken on, Covey prefers the paradigm of synergy.
He explains why:
Synergy is not the same thing as compromise. In a compromise, one plus one equals one and a half at best. Everybody loses something. Synergy is not just resolving a conflict. When we get to synergy, we transcend the conflict. We go beyond it to something new, something that excites everyone with fresh promise and transforms the future. Synergy is better than my or your way. It’s our way.
What Covey is advocating is much more than creating kumbaya moments. In the book he tells the story of his attending a meeting of the Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement. The members were Christians, Jews, and Muslims seeking to build a better relationship between the U.S. and the world Islamic community. He wrote that at the first meeting, held on a Sunday, it was evident that everyone had an agenda and the atmosphere was cool. Covey asked them if he could teach them about the 3rd Alternative and they agreed. He reported that, by Tuesday night, the group arrived at a solution that the members of the group had never anticipated and that the people in the room were filled with love and respect for one another. Though the concepts in the 439-page book are more complex than this, the book does recommend two starting points: interacting with others using empathy and asking, “Would you be willing to look for a 3rd Alternative we haven’t even thought of yet?” Do you remember before the economic downturn, employment experts were calling for widespread shortages of qualified workers in certain occupations? Even today, some employers have trouble filling more technology dependent manufacturing jobs. What if Congress had examined a 3rd Alternative of spending stimulus money on training unemployed workers to fill some of those positions, then training the chronically unemployed to move onto the first rung of the employment ladder to replace those moving up? What might the country’s unemployment picture look like if that had happened? Covey is asking us to get beyond the stalemates that give eternal life to problems. He is urging us to walk in another’s shoes and create solutions that are not the unsatisfying results of compromise, but rather the 3rd Alternative we can only create by tapping the synergy of working together to create some exciting solutions we haven’t considered yet. Solutions that provide a much greater value and brighter future to each side. The 3rd Alternative is the blueprint for creating those solutions.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.