Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 3;   January 19, 2005: Obstacles to Compromise

Obstacles to Compromise

by

Compromise is the art of devising an approach acceptable to all parties. A talent for compromise is rare. What makes finding compromises so difficult?
Agreeing to a deal

Ellen looked at the clock. Three minutes to eleven — just barely enough time. She looked at Glen, then at Mort. "So, we have a deal?" she asked. Glen nodded. Mort sat quietly, looking down at some figures on his pad. Ellen knew he was on the edge. She prodded him. "Mort?"

Mort sighed and looked up at Glen. "We have the test bed until June 30?"

Glen nodded. "Yes," he said.

"And you have it April 1 to 15?" Mort asked.

Glen said yes again.

"OK," Mort said. "Deal."

Mort, Ellen, and Glen have just worked out a compromise. Even when the result is fairly simple, finding a compromise can be difficult. Here are some reasons why.

Emotions are involved
Finding design compromises — we call them tradeoffs — is easier because designs aren't people. A design can't feel hurt.
Trading off the needs and desires of people, though, triggers emotions. We must learn to propose and to make those trades with care and respect. And we must deal with the sometimes-emotional consequences.
The word "compromise" has baggage
Trading off needs
and desires tends
to trigger emotions.
Take emotions
into account.
We use the word compromise in negative ways. For instance, when we fall ill, we say that our health is compromised. This is one reason why we tend to see compromises as undesirable.
Learning to appreciate the elegance of a compromise makes it easier to find compromises when we need them.
We need to be "right"
Many of us need to be right, and too often, we feel more "right" when we prove others "wrong." In such a black-and-white world, compromise appears gray and unsatisfying.
But compromise isn't about being right or wrong. Rather, compromise is about satisfying everyone's needs and desires, and these are often non-rational.
We misunderstand compromise
Too often, we view compromise as "give and take." And sometimes it is, when we transfer resources or status to our partners in contention.
But compromise needn't involve such transfers — it's possible to compromise without any exchange at all. Often, to achieve new goals, we simply let go of goals we once had.
The compromise itself is new to us
We usually have a clear view of what we want, and what we don't want. When someone proposes a compromise, it often contains elements we haven't considered before, and we're unsure of the consequences.
Since we're uncertain of the value of the proposed compromise, we manage the perceived risk by devaluing the proposal, or by rejecting it outright. Instead, seek to understand the risks, and ask for what you need to manage those risks.

These are some of the troubles we encounter when we try to find compromises. Just as there are troubles, there are also workable techniques for finding compromises. I just didn't have space to cover both in one week. So I compromised: we'll explore techniques for finding compromises in a future issue. Go to top Top  Next issue: Virtual Communications: Part I  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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