I tell my clients and grad students that compromise, or settlement by concession, is a dirty word in relationship negotiations. A quick story to illustrate:
The scene: A home decorating show on television. The characters: Wife, husband, interior decorator. The setting: Couple’s living room with a big, blank, newly painted wall behind the beautiful new sectional couch.
The scenario: The couple is trying to select art for the wall. The husband likes the traditional-looking oil painting, the wife likes the contemporary wall sculpture.
The interior decorator proposes a contemporary oil painting, saying, “It’s the perfect compromise!” Wife and husband each nod in agreement, but their faces say it all: When the decorator departs and the cameras are packed up, that painting will be gone faster than a bee-stung stallion.
It’s not that compromise doesn’t have it’s place in relationships (negotiating, for instance, quick resolution of generally unimportant day-to-day stuff). It’s that for too many couples, co-workers, and business partners compromise is like having a one-trick pony in the paddock. Elegant, efficient, effective problem-solving comes from having more ponies to choose from.
The 5 reasons compromise is a dirty word
- You end up with watered-down solutions. Like the couple in my story, you may well end up with a solution or decision that doesn’t make anybody happy and may actually make everyone a little unhappy. That’s a good choice for the little day-to-day things that don’t ultimately matter in your life, but a poor tradeoff when negotiating things that matter.
- It limits possibility. And speaking of tradeoffs: When compromise is your primary approach to conflict resolution, you limit possibility dramatically. That’s because when you’re stuck in concession-making mode, you fail to see the options that other problem-solving approaches would illuminate.
- It’s a poor primary negotiation habit for ongoing relationships.. Conceding, or giving something up, in order to settle a matter isn’t necessarily a bad strategy when negotiating the purchase price of a car, it’s a poor basis for any ongoing personal or professional relationship. You can – and should – do better by yourself and each other than horse-trading your way through differences.
- It puts your fallback approach first. Sometimes a compromise is the best you can achieve, but that’s the fallback, not the place you start.
- It’s collaboration’s poor cousin. While it’s common to see compromise and collaboration used interchangeably in language, they’re not the same at all.
- It’s lazy. It means you don’t value the relationship enough to use other problem-solving approaches. Or that you haven’t taken the time to expand your toolbox. Or you think it’s more efficient to compromise (do you really believe the decorator’s compromise saved time for this couple after she left?).
When you’re negotiating things that matter in your personal and professional relationships, time spent on the front end of the negotiation saves you time – and helps the relationship – over the longer run. And the problem-solving approach you use should be dependent on the situation and the relationship, not the other way around.