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: 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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenKAURDozgKNlroaNsner@ChacEaUcXAiIGIQaWRkSoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Pulling at each otherWhen You Think They've Made Up Their Minds
In tough negotiations, when attempts to resolve differences have failed, we sometimes conclude that "they've made up their minds," but other explanations abound. Keeping an open mind about why other people seem to have closed theirs can help us find a resolution.
Horns of a dilemmaChoices for Widening Choices
Choosing is easy when you don't have much to choose from. That's one reason why groups sometimes don't recognize all the possibilities — they're happiest when choosing is easy. When we notice this happening, what can we do about it?
Governor Scott Walker of WisconsinIndicators of Lock-In: I
In group decision-making, lock-in occurs when the group persists in adhering to its chosen course even though superior alternatives exist. Lock-in can be disastrous for problem-solving organizations. What are some common indicators of lock-in?
Still Life with Chair-Caning, by PicassoSolutions as Found Art
Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways. Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.
A clockThe Artful Shirker
Most people who shirk work are fairly obvious about it, but some are so artful that the people around them don't realize what's happening. Here are a few of the more sophisticated shirking techniques.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Problem Solving and Creativity and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Probably not the kind of waiting we have in mind hereComing July 26: Strategic Waiting
Time can be a tool. Letting time pass can be a strategy for resolving problems or getting out of tight places. Waiting is an often-overlooked strategic option. Available here and by RSS on July 26.
Srinivasa RamanujanAnd on August 2: Linear Thinking Bias
When assessing the validity of problem solutions, we regard them as more valid if their discovery stories are logical, than we would if they're less than logical. This can lead to erroneous assessments, because the discovery story is not the solution. Available here and by RSS on August 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenCOgUcnNpTBWrLpIkner@ChacaksGwBUvATOBmKVOoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.