Compassion is a word frequently used this time of year when describing individual goodwill to others. We often hear such comments as “she was a compassionate person who gave freely of her time and wealth to improve the lives of others”. But we rarely hear of B2B deals being described as compassionate in manner. Is it possible to have business dealings where we don’t define the outcome by who won or lost or who gained leverage over the other party?
Hollywood super-agent Shep Gordon would argue you can and he works hard to ensure that he does. In his book “They Call Me Supermensch”, he describes compassionate business as deal making that is done to the mutual benefit of both parties. He believes what's important in conducting business is to attempt to do business so that there aren't winners and losers.
There are only winners. While not a public name Mr. Gordon has successfully managed some of the biggest names in show business, created the celebrity chef concept, and often cooks for the Dali Lama.
Not everyone agrees with this notion. Author Dan Waldschmidt seems to echo what the majority of the business world believes when he states “there’s no such thing as a win-win business situation. The idea is intriguingly magical. But like pink unicorns, the Prison of Azkaban, and world peace it is more wishful thinking than reality.” His belief is that in order for one side to win, one side must lose. That is for him, how normal transactions work.
I respectfully disagree with Mr. Waldschmidt. You can do compassionate business deals. In over thirty years I have experienced and benefited from many of them, though I have also benefited financially from the winner takes all style of business. For me the former is much more gratifying long term than the latter.
Making the case for Compassionate Business
The deals I remember with affection are ones where both parties profited. Think of it as a good trade where both sides got something they needed. When asked by clients to describe who are my most successful business partners I tell them they are the customers who want to do business with me because we both win and not the ones who have to do business with me.
Here are three good reasons to do business compassionately in 2017.
1. It Feels Good
Most of us like to win. But, I have found that winning is much more gratifying when I know that I did not profit from someone else’s loss. I have no desire to retreat to my office and gloat in victory. I am much happier to have completed a deal that resulted in the building of a relationship. I still have personal relationships today with business owners that were the result of deals completed three decades ago. It feels really good when you get a call from someone in your past who is sending business your way because of how they were treated in a prior deal.
2. Nice people ultimately finish first.
The old saying “nice guys finish last” is based on very short sighted thinking. In that exact moment when someone is willing to concede a point or a part of a deal they may look like the loser. But they may just as likely have started a relationship that will continue to pay dividends over time and in the long run be more profitable that the quick deal. Often my best long term deals are the ones that initially paid nothing or very little. This has served me well over time and I am often willing to go the extra mile to help my clients, even when it may not make economic sense in the short term.
3. We need to build a culture of Compassionate Business
There are simply not enough business leaders who know how to be good negotiators and be compassionate at the same time. Many in business are afraid to be compassionate for fear of looking weak or getting a less than desirable deal. We need to change that and realize it’s OK to be neighborly! In her book “Negotiating Genuinely” author Shirli Kopeland teaches readers how to be a strategic negotiator while also being true to their compassionate beliefs. She says this is “both possible and powerful”. I agree!
As we approach 2017 I would recommend we all try and be more compassionate in our business dealings. I for one am willing to follow Supermensch’s example. After all he does get to cook for the Dali Lama and that has to be good karma.
And what about the woman at the beginning of this blog “who gave freely of her time and wealth”? I would argue that she got a really good trade in return – the knowledge that she was making a difference in people’s lives - that’s compassionate business!
Hoping you have a successful and joyful 2017!
 Harper Collins September 2016
 Stanford University Press - 2014