The Compliance-Agreement Matrix

Last year I gave a presentation titled "Why Some Meetings Work, and Some Don't". I used a lot of great concepts from other people. I adapted a few. And I invented one because it needed to exist. It's simple, but useful.

Here's a quick rundown of the topics I covered, then I'll dive into the Compliance-Agreement Matrix.

The Semantic Triangle and Square - a concept about communication, understanding, and misunderstanding.
The Pyramid of Abstraction and Concretion - a concept about how vivid or how general to make descriptions.
Aristotle's Rhetorical Triangle - about how to persuade using ethos, logos, and pathos (ethical appeals, rational appeals, and emotional appeals).
Personality Traits - the Big Five personality traits: extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and agreeableness.
Jim Lundy's Subordinates Lament, Supervisors Lament, Mushroom Farm Lament, and the four most important questions that a supervisor should answer for a subordinate.
Daniel Coyle's briefing and debriefing process.
Endel Tulving on long-term memory and Jean Piaget on moral progression.
Paul Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement.

It's an excellent lineup of powerful ideas. There was one other simple idea that I thought probably already existed. I couldn't find it, so I made it. Compliance and agreement aren't always aligned. We all know this, but I don't think we have a good framework for systematically thinking about it.

There are four options.

Compliance and Agreement

This is the ideal. If you're the boss you tell someone to do something, they think it's a good idea, and they do it. Or, you tell them not to do something, they agree, and they don't do it. This applies in business and politics. If you're the employee/subordinate/underling then when one of your bosses tell you to do or not do something you agree, and then you comply.

This is fairly common, but a long way from every interaction. If this doesn't happen there are a few options. One option is disengagement. Someone can quite, or leave, or escape, depending on the situation. If that's not possible or doesn't happen then there's a possibility for persuasion. Persuasion is both an art and a science. With persuasion you are trying to get agreement, and hopefully with that agreement you will also get compliance. The other possibility is a bad consequence, usually implemented initially as a threat. At times this can become force. The idea there is to get compliance even without agreement, and possibly hope that agreement will come later.

Compliance and Non-Agreement

This is common. Many people follow laws that they think are dumb because defying the government is a dangerous proposition even when those laws are wrong. Many people do things at work that they think make no sense, but "Hey, the boss said to do it and I just get paid by the hour." The larger the bureaucracy grows the more of this occurs. Which is why large organizations are out competed by smaller organizations fairly frequently, if the system isn't corrupted at the political level.

Getting compliance without agreement usually follows the basic ideas of classical conditioning: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. Respectively, these mean: giving them something they want, taking away something they want, giving them something they don't want, taking away something they don't want. These things can range from small to big depending on the situation. Notice too that these are a part of persuasion once you introduce a time element and multiple orders of possible consequences.

Before actually doing any of these things there is usually a threat that one of these will be done if the person isn't compliant. Threats and their enforcement actually follow an error cycle similar to the business cycle. In the tradition of the Austrian School of economics the study of human action is called Praxeology. There are two categories. Catallactics, or the study of the exchange of goods. And Cratics, or the study of the exchange of threats. Cratics has just started being studied in the last few years.

Agreement and Non-Compliance

This might seem odd at first. Why would someone not comply if they agree? But, it's actually not that uncommon. Imagine, or maybe you don't have to imagine, that you know someone that doesn't like their boss. They harbor a little resentment for various reasons. Maybe their boss really doesn't deserve the position, maybe they won't take any suggestions, maybe they take credit for ideas and work that isn't theirs, etc. Well, if that boss tells you to do something and it does happen to be a good idea, how motivated are you to do it? Maybe you're just defiant to be defiant. I've had well over 1,000 students in private classes, and even young children can often find enjoyment in defiance itself. It's a weird situation, and almost impossible to resolve once you're there with an adult. Disengagement seems like the most reasonable solution when it's possible.

Non-Agreement and Non-Compliance

This is reasonable. When you don't agree with something you don't comply with it. This is an ideal as well. In a perfect world we would only comply with things we agree with and we wouldn't comply with things we don't agree with. The purpose of being aware of that ideal is to move towards it, even if it isn't fully possible gains can be made in that direction.

- - -

This framework is simple and straightforward, and it can help us in many social situations. It can help us to know when we should engage with people and when we should be working to disengage. It helps us to be aware of major pitfalls, like agreement and non-compliance. And it helps us to think about what we need to do next. I find it useful, I hope you do too.


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