Compromise Leads to Nobility

Ian Bannen’s cynical and opportune words from the 1995 film Braveheart, echo through the collective unconsciousness of many organizations—schools, businesses, churches–when people in them consider a compromise with another party: “It is precisely our ability to compromise that makes a man noble.”

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Many in the workplace associate compromise, not with negotiation strength, but with weakness around positions and principles. Passion is not associated with compromise, nor is exuberance, excitement, or energy. Compromise is typically roundly mocked and is too often viewed as the last outpost of the deceitful and the conniving.

Why do employees in the workplace, members of religious organizations, or even the staff and students of schools, see compromise as something both shameful and necessary?

Compromise “Fits” Depending on Your Needs

How negotiation happens, our views on what constitutes a “win” and a “loss,” and our personal passions around the positions we hold, reveal quite a bit about why compromise gets such lousy marketing, yet is still the way that many negotiations around issues that matter, get done.

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How negotiation happens—Many people believe that negotiation is a process in which everyone “wins,” there are no “losers,” and all parties can somehow get along. A few people believe that the process of negotiation is one in which many people “lose,” only a few people can “win,” and the parties who lost deserve what happens to them. Both of these views associate the conditions of having to negotiate in the first place with moral failings, rather than associating the conditions of having to negotiate with a systemic, structural failing. Both of these views associate compromise with moral, political, or ethical failure and look upon the need for compromise as a temporary “defeat” in the pursuit of greater, more transformative goals. There are very few people who view compromise as necessary, process-oriented, and frame the negotiations as “win-win” or “lose-lose” for all parties involved.

What constitutes a “win” and a “loss”—Many people misuse the terms “winning” and “losing” and project their own desires, thoughts, and collectively accumulated wisdom onto the negotiation process. And when the process fails, the failure is a reflection on them as people, rather than on the process itself. There are very few people who can “lose and laugh.” The vast majority of us inject our personal views and beliefs on fairness, right and wrong, and who has power and who doesn’t into determining which party has “won,” “lost,” or compromised unnecessarily in a negotiation.

Our personal passions—This has been noted before, but it bears repeating that principles are based on values, traditions, and narratives that give meaning to each party in a conflict. Principles spring directly from deeply held passions, but too often we use the language of positions to express (or to obfuscate) our passions. Many individuals and organizations confuse their interests for their principles. What follows from such confusion is social shaming, public bullying, and even emotional, legal, and cultural efforts to engage in the destruction of the character of the other party in the negotiation.

Compromise Costs

Ian Bannen’s other line from Braveheart also rings true: “Uncompromising men are easy to admire.”

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How difficult is it to be uncompromising in your own conflicts in your own life?

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