Integrative Negotiation Rule No. 4: Never Compromise

When talking with groups, I often ask people to share their thoughts on key characteristics of The Leadership Gift. I’m always bemused when someone responds, “The ability to compromise.”

Why? Because the most responsible people I know are lightning fast to consider tradeoffs, yet they are very slow to compromise.

The unfortunate truth is that most of us have been so programmed to think distributively that our first approach to settling differences in interests is a rush to the Lose-Lose middle.

But think about it: have you ever seen anyone walk away from a compromise excited and celebrating? Why not? It’s simple: no one gets what they wanted in a compromise.

They didn’t win. In fact, they settled for less than their interests.

It’s easy to recognize when a group has compromised: participants affirm themselves by exclaiming, “At least we didn’t lose worse than they did.”

Unlike most experts, I don’t consider compromise to be a key characteristic of teamwork. I am all for rapid resolution — but rapid compromise is seldom the best path!

In my experience, when people rush to compromise, they were either wavering in their original position, or they’re willing to settle for less than what’s truly important to them (and then resent it later).

Either way, compromise indicates a distributive mindset, rather than an integrative one (see Why Integrative Negotiations Are More Successful for a discussion of the differences).

True Leadership Gift masters are extremely slow to compromise. Why? Because ensuring that their interests are truly met is worth more to them than avoiding the stress of a conflict.

They understand the following distinctions:

  1. Because compromise implies giving in to another person’s position, it’s a political move, not evidence of teamwork. There’s a time and place for politics, but compromise promotes settling for less. It seldom promotes teamwork, unless what you call teamwork is going-along-to-get-along.
  2. Compromise usually achieves a Lose-Lose result (as opposed to a Win-Win or Win-Lose result) because neither party’s interests are met.
  3. People often rush to compromise to escape the stress of a conflict, not to reach a good solution for themselves — or for others. This is key. We rush to compromise to escape the anxiety of disagreement. Learn to approach with an integrative mind and face the anxiety. It is worth it.

So how can we avoid compromise and yet bargain with others?

  • Know your own interests and connect those interests to your core beliefs and values. Then bargain tough for them. People who are clear about their interests can’t compromise. You wouldn’t compromise your values, would you?
  • Search for alternatives. Compromise holds such cache in our society because it demonstrates one’s willingness to (1) approach, (2) flex, and (3) resolve. Those are great qualities to demonstrate! And, it’s entirely possible to show your willingness to resolve differences in a negotiation by searching for alternatives without abandoning your BATNA! (See Integrative Negotiating Rule No. 2: Generate Alternatives for a discussion of BATNA.)

Is there ever a time when it’s okay to compromise? Yes, these two situations are best handled with compromise:

  1. When you value politics (separate interests) over aligned interests and no alternative is better than a Lose-Lose agreement, and
  2. When influencing choices and outcomes isn’t central to your interests (for example when you give up your restaurant preference in deference to the team’s preference because your true interest is having lunch together to work on team matters — but then this really describes a tradeoff doesn’t it).

Get Started With This Week’s 5-Minute Stretch

Step One: Try on the integrative position of “I never compromise.” How does it feel? Uncomfortable? Arrogant? Remember, compromise most often begets Lose-Lose outcomes.

Step Two: Commit to yourself that you’ll become slower and slower at “rushing to the middle” to settle a conflict quickly. Instead commit to problem-solve to explore breakthrough alternatives the satisfy more of everyone’s interests.

When might be your next opportunity to practice these steps? What do you see happening? Let me know.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Collaboration, Teamwork on 02/11/2013 01:00 am
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