Ah, compromise. That’s where neither negotiating party gets what it wants, right? Call us jaded, but we agree with leadership consultant Aad Boot that the usually positive connotation pegged to ‘compromise’ is often misplaced.
“Let’s take a closer look at what the word ‘compromise’ really means,” Boot (@Leadershipwatch) suggests on his blog, LeadershipWatch. He consults Oxford Dictionaries for its official definitions: An agreement or settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions. The expedient acceptance of standards that are lower than is desirable.
“In other words, when you reach a compromise both parties pour water into their wine,” he concludes. “. . . A compromise by definition lead[s] to a suboptimal solution.”
Boot concedes, however, that there are four exceptions — or circumstances in which finding middle ground serves a purpose. In an e-mail interview with Build, he provided the following real-world examples of when compromise can work.
1. When it prevents the emergence of an uncontrollable conflict.
Boot’s example: Senior leadership decides that central headquarters will handle customer service. An area sales director observes big problems occurring— and large customers are threatening to walk away—because his clients do business with local people. HQ has to come up with a temporary solution that gives the sales director an opportunity to deal with his clients directly while the expert team stays in the background.
2. When it helps to jump-start a stalled situation.
Boot’s example: A change process is blocked between two division managers who can’t agree about who’s responsible for a specific department. So the CEO decides to temporarily run the department until the change process is complete.
3. When it enables the parties involved to show a desperately needed short-term success that increases motivation and mutual trust.
Boot’s example: The merger of two companies faces serious setbacks because of legal constraints. The original deadline has already been delayed several times, and people are getting nervous and worried about their futures. The executive committee decides to move the back-office departments of both companies to a new joint location, while keeping the legal structure of both companies intact until legal issues are resolved. People are physically in the same building now, which signals that the merger is actually taking place.
4. When it allows the parties involved to temporarily lower their ambitions and meet each other at a lower but mutual level, from which they can start to build together.
Boot’s example: Two managers have been butting heads for some time. Manager X is responsible for the regional production site and developing a new product, and Manager Y expects the finished product in large quantities—and fast—for the target market. Manager X cannot launch quickly, because the product is not yet meeting quality standards and needs further testing. So managers X and Y agree to deliver an early version of the new product at a slightly lower quality level. Manager Y asks customers to become “partners in testing and launching a new product.” Manager X accepts a launch of an unfinished product, Y accepts the effort needed to convince the customers, and they move forward from there.
Boot’s criticism of compromises centers on long-term solutions for organizations. You may also want to think about how compromising can hurt your career, advises small-business expert Dave Samuels. “Before you decide to compromise, think about not only what’s best for the company, but also how it improves or damages your credibility in the future,” he writes on TheNest.com.