by Goodwin Proctor

Often the word cooperate is misinterpreted to mean compliance or capitulation. 
Most dictionaries define cooperate as, 1) to work or act together or jointly for a common purpose or benefit; or 2) to work or act with another or other persons willingly and agreeably; compliance as, 1) the act of conforming, acquiescing, or yielding; 2) a tendency to yield readily to others, especially in a weak and subservient way; 3) conformity; accordance: in compliance with orders; and capitulate as, 1) to surrender unconditionally or on stipulated terms; 2) to give up resistance: He finally capitulated and agreed to do the job my way. 

When one is not in a leadership or decision-making role, their level of influence is necessarily less than that of the leader or decision maker. Unless one is looking to “free up their future” (through resignation or termination) when faced with a directive they will be simultaneously provided with two choices: cooperate or be used. As previously defined, cooperation has at its heart a commonality of purpose and thus, is positioned for mutual benefit. Since in most cases authentic leaders and supervisors seek the best case, win-win, scenarios, more often than not the decision to take an action will move forward, with or without an individual’s cooperation. Compliance is not cooperation – it’s reserved or restrained performance; Capitulation is not cooperation – it’s exasperation and surrender. In both instances the individual is performing due to a requirement, real or perceived, rather than a commitment.

Reluctant participation, compliance, or capitulation, will result in the marginalization of one’s opinions and input. After-the-fact cooperation or assistance further degrades an individual’s professionalism by appearing un-authentic. As a result, those who fail to cooperate, in many instances limit themselves to being directed, used, or circumvented. Often a single incident will become the defining watermark of a professional career, and impact how one is viewed by the world. 

The choice is simple and complex; clear and obscure at the same time. Examine the directive and decide whether you will have more impact from within through cooperation, or if you have sufficient formal or informal personal influence or professional clout to impact a directive from without. Remember – whatever your decision, a defining moment may be created. Cooperate or be Used.
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Dr. Eugene Matthews

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