Compromise is often held up as the intelligent, emotionally stable way of reaching agreement with another while preserving – or even enhancing – the relationship. In a heated disagreement about who washes dishes, we are often steered to something like, “Let’s be fair; you do them one week, and I’ll do them the next.” Or take a small business deal where you want to buy a successful enterprise from the retiring owner. The owner wants $2M because he thinks that is what he needs to have in cash to live comfortably in retirement. Your analysis of the business leads you to believe that it is not worth more than $1.5M – but you really want to buy it. We are taught to say, “Let’s split the difference; how about $1.750M?”
Careful; with the way compromise is being taught, it’s a dangerous thought process that often leads us to the wrong conclusion. Okay, how on earth could compromising be a trap? Because “splitting the difference” or “meeting others half-way” may easily lead to the wrong solution. A solution that can not only be sub-optimal, but can hurt the relationship.
Let’s take the above two examples; examples that are being lived out all over the world everyday. With the two arguing about the dishes, perhaps the solution is to buy a dishwasher, or substitute paper plates and use disposable utensils more often. Or eat out/order takeout more often. Or even have the maid service (if they have one) come twice a week instead of once, and have them do the stacked dishes.
The business example is even more fun. Instead of spending $250K more than you are comfortable for the enterprise, what would happen if you asked the retiring owner how much money he needs in retirement, and then see if you could buy an annuity (a form of insurance or investment entitling the investor to a series of annual cash payments) for $1.5M in their name that would pay that amount annually–or close enough to make the deal.
The point here is not to get rid of the notion of cooperating with others and meeting them halfway; the point is to drop the idea that splitting the difference is the way to do it. Substitute finding the “best solution” for “splitting the difference” and good things can happen. Splitting the difference is easy; kinda the lazy way of figuring things out. Finding the best solution takes a bit more time and mental energy, but it is well worth it.
Let’s look at an exaggerated example. “I want 20!” “No way, nothing more than 10!” If this is going to be settled, we are taught to seek a compromise at 15. Maybe the answer is “Blue.” Blue? How could blue be an answer to a numbers-based disagreement? We need to s-t-r-e-t-c-h our minds. As we get to know each other, you will come to understand that I am not a fan of cliches, but sometimes they convey truth (which is how they became a cliche in the first place). The cliche here is that we need to think out of the box. And here the box is splitting the difference.
Compromise has been described as a solution where both sides feel equally screwed. There is some intended humor here, but this illustrates a core point: Neither side got what they wanted, and both feel like they gave up something for an easing of tensions. With a creative solution, “Blue” for example, both sides can gain, and feel happy and encouraged rather than simply less tense.
Meeting people halfway through compromise assumes that halfway will work in the first place. If you think that you are meeting someone halfway, I can guarantee you they feel that you are falling well short of that goal, while feeling they are doing far more than their half. From their perspective, your idea of half looks much smaller – perhaps just a token gesture. So, instead of 50/50, let’s try 75/75. Yes? Won’t my 75% look like at least 50% to the other person? Maybe, but let’s take it up another notch; take 100% responsibility for finding a solution. What? One hundred percent? Q. What is this other person’s responsibility if I’m doing 100%? A. They read this blog, and take 100% responsibility also. (Unpacked in another blog.)
Drop compromise (“An agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions”) – both the word and the thought process – from your thinking. Replace it with creative solutions that enhance everyone. Solution. “A means of solving a problem or dealing with a difficult situation.”
This approach works. But nothing works until you do it. Try this and let me know.
Will Luden, writing from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.