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.
- 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. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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