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By Marty Seitz
To many people, the word compromise is a bad word with negative connotations. Perhaps we think of compromise this way because it is associated with giving up some part of what we value to get something we deem as more valuable or not to lose more of what we already have.
Compromise has often meant having to settle for less than the ideal in the hopes of coming to an agreement with someone. For instance, let’s say you and your date are ordering a meal for two to share, and the main dish can be ordered with mild, moderate or hot seasoning. You might prefer hot while your date prefers mild. One type of compromise might be for you to order the dish moderately spicy. If you did, neither you nor your date would have the dish seasoned ideally to taste, but neither of you would have to eat the dish spiced completely out of your comfort zone. You each would have given up on getting the ideal to maintain the relationship and get some of what you want.
Because compromise has taken on such negative meaning, the term collaboration is often preferred. It entails two or more people working together to meet shared goals. Whereas compromise seems to focus on what everyone has to sacrifice to preserve peace and gain some of the desired goals of each party, collaboration seems to emphasize what each one can gain through intentional cooperation.
To me, compromise and collaboration are just flip sides of the same coin, two views of the same process. It focuses on the half-empty glass (compromise) or the half-full glass (collaboration). Maybe we should come up with a blended term for the process, such as collabromise or comprobation.
Decision making inevitably involves compromise/collaboration—taking stock of the relevant goals of the parties involved and trying to find the most mutually acceptable or beneficial decision. Compromises come in all shapes and sizes, and having the ability to find different ways toward mutually beneficial solutions is valuable knowledge.
The following types of compromises can be used when negotiating with other people or when have to come to an agreeable decision. They keep one person from being a bully and always getting his or her way, or keep one person from being a perpetual martyr, always sacrificing his or her needs and wants. Bullies and martyrs both engender resentment.
The 50/50 split
The most common type of compromise is the 50/50 split in which each person gets half of what he or she wants. For instance, if you only have one piece of pie left and two people would like to have it, you can split the last piece in half so that each person receives a 50 percent portion. You can always use the age-old method of having one person divide the piece and the other person choose which piece to eat.
Taking turns is as old a method as childhood play. One person gets what he or she wants with the understanding that the other person gets the same privilege the next time. Going back to the pie, if only one piece remained, then the first person receives it, knowing that the next time only one portion of dessert is left the other person gets it. “Ah,” you say, “but how do you decide who goes first?”
One fair way to decide who gets the first turn is to flip a coin (but not a trick one). Each person has an even chance of winning the toss.
Trade-off or quid pro quo
Trading off is slightly different from taking turns. Again using the pie analogy, one person might offer to let another have the last piece for the privilege of choosing which movie they watch together. Quid pro quo means “this for that” in Latin, so giving up this piece of pie in return for that later choice of movie could be a fair type of compromise or collaboration.
Mutual martyrdom or somebody else wins
Two parties could decide that the fairest way to solve a problem of limited resources (whether time, money, material … or pie) is for neither side to get an unfair advantage. They could both decide to forgo the last pie piece and let someone else or no one else have it. Some might see this nobody-wins solution as crazy or the opposite of collaboration, but it can be a viable compromise because each person does get something more highly valued than a preference in one particular instance. They preserve their relationship. Neither feels resentful for losing or guilty for winning, and each party is justly treated.
Human societies usually have judges of some sort to settle disputes fairly. Judges, referees, mediators, juries and even marriage counselors fulfill the role of deciding the best option. Having a neutral, fair and, hopefully, wise third party make a decision is a type of compromise.
Decision-making software (DMS)
For complex decisions that require choosing from among a group of competing options based on multiple characteristics or factors, decision-making software may be a way to reach mutually agreeable compromises (see Decision-Making Software or Analytic Hierarchy Process). Here the choice of who gets the last piece of pie is relatively simple, choosing which car to buy, with apartment to rent, or which job to take involves considering many factors on which different individuals may have vastly different preferences.
In buying a car, for instance, one person in a family may care most about safety features, then economy features, then seating and luggage capacity and, finally, styling and appearance. Another family member may have the value hierarchy reversed, considering style first, seating and luggage capacity second, economy features third, and safety characteristic last. Decision-making software can help people quantify the degree of value they place on each attribute for each possible choice and calculate which alternative best fits all parties involved. I use a hardcopy, paper-and-pencil version of such a decision-making model in counseling.
Enlarging the pie, the creative compromise or the both/and solution
Enlarging the pie is an ideal solution. Instead of people getting only some of what they want, when they enlarge the pie, they all get what they want. Given only one piece of pie is left, everyone could decide to go out and get another pie so everyone has a piece. Another example of this kind of compromise would be a family choosing to go to a food court to eat so everyone can find a preferred type of cuisine.
I hope these eight types of compromises or decision-making told will help you reach more mutually agreeable solutions with those around you.
Marty Seitz is an associate professor of psychology in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Asbury University, where he has taught since 1989. He got his bachelor’s in psychology from Asbury University, studied at Asbury Theological Seminary, got a master’s degree in community counseling and a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from Georgia State University. In addition to his teaching, he has practiced as a licensed psychologist in Lexington since 1989, doing individual and couples’ counseling and has been working with the Access Wellness Group since its inception.
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