When Compromise Becomes Surrender

COMPROMISE : A settlement reached by mutual consent through concession on both sides.

In principle, compromise sounds sensible – the idea that we are open enough to listen to other views, and incorporate them into our thinking in order to arrive at a solution that works for all parties sounds great. But when does it go too far?

True compromise involves having the courage to stand up for what you believe in – it’s not about bending over backwards to accommodate everyone else. It takes courage to state your point of view, and then a different sort of courage (vulnerability?) to make concessions so that everyone is happy with the end result.

Whether we are talking about our business or personal lives, the problem comes when we don’t stand up for ourselves – when we are too accommodating, or when we are trying to placate the other side, and end up feeling like we have surrendered too much.

All this depends on the other party, of course – they also have to enter the negotiation with the same willingness to stand up for their views but not be dogmatic, and allow us to express ourselves fully. When we find ourselves in a situation whether this sort of open dialogue is not possible, then perhaps we are best off just walking away rather than giving up too much of what we believe in.

In the definition above, there’s one part that I have a slight issue with – the concession part. We often hear of people saying that compromise is inevitable in relationships – whether that is business or personal … but does reaching agreement always have to involve a lessening? Is there a way to approach compromise in a way that makes the situation better, the relationship stronger?

Stephen Covey’s fourth habit is ‘Think Win/Win’ – the idea that by working together, we can create solutions that not only work for both parties, but are better than we would come up with alone. The other option is ’no deal’ – if compromise cannot be reached, we are better off agreeing to ’no deal’; rather than giving up more than we are comfortable with, we should walk away. This does not mean we cannot ever reach a satisfactory ‘Win/Win’ solution, just that we can’t get there at the moment.

Ultimately, I think we all know when we have crossed the line – when the compromise has turned into surrender we end up feeling used and unfairly treated. We know inside that we are not being true to ourselves – we need to listen to those messages, and pay attention to them.

As always seems to be the case, there is a balance to be struck here. The ability to see things from someone else’s point of view is a crucial skill to develop, but the reality is that we can’t always arrive at exciting, novel solutions to the challenges we encounter in our lives – sometimes the answer is to let someone else have their way … but we must take care not to sacrifice too much of ourselves just to avoid confrontation or make other people happy.

Is there anywhere in your life where the balance has moved too far to one side?