Knowing the Difference Between Cooperation and Compliance

by Madison Vickery, FIRST Team 6875 and Girls in STEM Student Advisory Council Member

When working as a team, we often find ourselves discussing possible options, actions, and solutions with people who have conflicting opinions. If handled appropriately, conflict can stimulate progressive discussions and bring about positive change.

One solution to conflict is to compromise by cooperating with one another and deciding together which path should be taken, and finding solutions that benefit both parties. Another way to deal with conflict is to simply comply with the ideas of others; which can lead to one person feeling devalued. Although, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between cooperation and compliance to the wishes of others, it is necessary to distinguish the two in order for all individuals to feel heard and to ensure the cohesiveness of the group.

Imagine you are at your workplace and you are having a discussion with a co-worker. You are trying to make a plan for how to move forward on a project. Your co-worker suggests you go with option A, but, after thoroughly researching all possible outcomes, you believe that option B is a more effective solution. Despite your belief, you end up agreeing with your co-worker and proceeding with option A.

Often times we feel like bending to the will of others means we are cooperating and being a team player; avoiding potential conflict.  We feel as though by cooperating with our co-worker we made the decision simple for all those involved. This, however is not cooperation. Cooperation is a process of working together to achieve our goals. It is about allowing everyone to be their authentic selves and inspiring each other. What happened in this scenario was one person complied with another’s ideas. Compliance is based on an imbalance of power and control.

A common mistake among people, especially young women, is not knowing the difference between cooperation and compliance.  I too found myself in this position; and more and more I realized that I needed to voice my opinions in conversations more. I had always been a quiet person. This, on top of the fact that I tried to avoid conflict at all costs, led my ideas not being heard. That is when I began to notice patterns within discussions surrounding the decision-making process. I started to notice quiet members complying with the wishes of people with power; often negating what they, themselves, could bring to the discussion.

So, how do we know if we are cooperating or complying? We need to become aware of how we feel during the decision-making process. Once a decision is made, ask yourself:

  • Was I able to express my thoughts and concerns?
  • Did I feel heard and validated?
  • Were my ideas incorporated into the plan or  solution? If not, was there a valid reason?
  • Am I comfortable with the decision that was made?

If you can answer yes to all of these questions then you just participated in a cooperative process. If not, it’s not too late. Stand up for what you believe in and bring your concerns to the table.

Remember, compliance does not inspire others to be better. Only through cooperation great things can be achieved.



For more information about the Girls in STEM Council, please visit here.