Compromises resolve disputes easier, find solutions faster, and help people get along with one another while finding the best possible paths forward for various challenges. They’re a highly effective tool when used appropriately, but too many modern professionals don’t know or don’t follow simple best practices for efficient compromises.
In general, a compromise is about two (or more) people in disagreement finding a mutually accessible resolution for their disagreement, often a kind of “middle ground” between two opposite ends of a spectrum. Compromise can be used in price or salary negotiations, in strategy meetings, or even in the distribution of responsibilities between team members.
In any context, these seven principles can help you make better compromises in the workplace:
1. Know what’s worth compromising on.
Some things are easier to compromise on than others, but distortions in your thinking can affect you in multiple ways. For example, if you’re a prideful person, you may be unwilling to compromise on a relatively small matter that doesn’t require much flexibility. Or if you’re too eager to compromise, you may weaken or discard your own ethics. Your first step to success is being able to recognize what’s worth compromising on and what isn’t–and for that, you’ll need to look at dimensions of significance, relevance, and personal investment. There’s no one right answer for anything.
2. See compromise as a strength, not a weakness.
One of the biggest limiting factors in seeking compromises is the fact that so many people view compromises as a sign of weakness. If you think of a discussion or debate as a battle, then a compromise is a way of yielding, even if only slightly. The thing is, discussions aren’t a battle. You’re two people on the same team, both trying to get the most value out of a situation. Compromising is a way of demonstrating your confidence in the fact that a situation can be worked out, and your commitment to actually doing so. Think of it as a strength.
3. Be transparent with your intentions.
In negotiations, especially in sales, there are usually some subtle, borderline deceptive practices designed to mask your intentions and persuade your target to your side. But in compromises, it’s better if you’re direct with your intentions. Rather than dancing around the subject, or trying to stealthily move someone from their position, be blunt about it; let them know you fundamentally disagree, but that you’re willing to meet them in the middle. This generally opens the discussion to a more meaningful level and proactively demonstrates that you’re sincere in your intentions.
4. Discover your opponent’s true needs.
The word “opponent” here is a bit misleading, since it’s not a good idea to think of your compromising partner as an adversary. Still, there’s definitely something confrontational, or at least opposing, in this back-and-forth. One of your best tools for success is acknowledging and understanding your opponent’s real needs–and they may be buried underneath the surface. For example, your opponent may be arguing for fewer responsibilities when what they really need are responsibilities that are more in their wheelhouse. Look deeper, and you’ll be able to find more effective paths forward.
5. Make multiple suggestions.
When people have the freedom to make decisions, they’re generally happier. And when a person has two or more options instead of one, they’ll generally be more willing to move forward–not to mention being happier with the end result. If you want to offer an effective compromise, instead of suggesting just one option for meeting in the middle, suggest multiple options. Lay out multiple paths forward, and open yourself to other options too. This method of multi-option presentation will make it easier for the two of you to find a mutual ground you can both agree upon.
6. Escalate when appropriate.
Sometimes, your first offer will fall flat. Your counterpart may be unwilling to budge due to a higher level of personal investment, a dislike for the offer on the table, or superficial pride. In any case, further efforts for a compromise will only be effective if you escalate your offer, moving the “middle ground” somewhat closer to your counterpart’s relative position. This isn’t always effective, nor is it always desirable, so it’s up to you to carefully evaluate whether or not it’s worth this escalating step.
7. Know that not all compromise attempts will work.
Finally, go into your potential compromise knowing that there’s a significant chance your efforts won’t work at all. Some people are fundamentally unwilling to compromise, and sometimes, there really isn’t a middle ground for two diametrically opposed positions. This is rare, as when two people work together to find new, creative solutions, there’s usually room for at least one potential path forward, but failed compromises are a reality you’ll need to prepare for. Don’t let it discourage you from trying again in the future.
With these seven secrets to better compromises, you’ll be doing your part to make your workplace more efficient, more mutually accessible, and even more enjoyable. Not all of them are immediately intuitive, and some of them require work to perfect, but together, they can turn you into a master compromiser, and will earn you respect in the process.