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Conflict-resolution mode #5: Compromising -- 'Let's make a deal!'

An overview of one of five conflict-resolution modes -- compromise -- and how and when to use it.

The following tip describes the compromise conflict-resolution mode. Return to the main page for information on the other four modes and how to work with them to help keep your job. Brought to you by CONNECT: The Knowledge Network.


A compromise occurs when two conflicting parties each agree to give something up in order to gain agreement on a seemingly larger issue. While compromising can help grease the wheels of progress, too much compromise can muddy an important vision, or water down a bold initiative. A developer we know excels in the art of compromise. He demonstrates an ability to segment and prioritize the many components of his projects. This empowers him to compromise well because he's aware of many options -- the bargaining chips.

After attending a development conference, he realized the merits of agile methods. He decided that he would evangelize the concept to his manager and team members. He thought about all the different ways that workflow could be optimized, saving time and energy. His team would be able to take on that other project, the one that really interested him but had to be shelved for lack of resources. Perhaps he would finally get that raise because productivity would increase so much!

Only trouble was, this developer wasn't the extroverted type. He didn't have much experience in persuading management. He tended to be more reactive than proactive, which worked well enough because of his compromising skills. But this time, he needed to speak out if anything were to happen. Nervous and excited, he approached his manager and began to explain what he had learned at the conference. The manager heard the words "agile methods" then dismissed him out-of-hand.

Typically, that would've ended the issue, but the developer was determined. He spoke to his team members about it and they loved the idea. They suggested that he rework his message and go back to the manager, which is exactly what he did. This time the manager listened, then responded with some reasons why agile methods wouldn't work in their department -- cultural issues, management issues. In the end, they compromised with the manager agreeing to consider the issue further.

Upon reflection, our developer friend felt the decision was too much of a compromise. He knew his manager was avoiding. He felt like he had given up too much, not just for his own sake, but for the sake of the business. Eventually, he decided that it was worth it to compete on the issue. He built a business case and went to his manager again.

Ideal uses:

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) notes that compromising is characterized by moderate assertiveness and moderate cooperation. Compromising involves finding middle ground or splitting the difference. Following are some ideal uses of compromising:

  • Moderate importance -- For issues that are somewhat important, but not critical enough to warrant the time and energy required for competing or collaborating, compromise can come in handy.
  • Parity -- When both parties involved have equal power or are equally committed to their opposing views, compromise can offer the only viable alternative.
  • Temporary solutions -- Sometimes a temporary solution can help pave the way for a more complex resolution in the long term. Compromise is perfect for such quick fixes.
  • Time constraints -- In situations involving time pressure, compromising can offer an expedient solution that somewhat satisfies each party.
  • Backup plan -- Many times, you'll first engage a conflict with a competitive or collaborative mindset, but then realize that compromise is the only way to resolve the issue.

Excessive usage:

Some people enjoy using the compromising mode because to them, it feels like a game. Others rely on it because it offers a quick way to resolve issues. Overuse of the compromising mode can result in:

  • Tunnel vision -- You may find yourself so preoccupied with the tactical aspect of compromise that you lose sight of the big picture. Too many quick fixes can jeopardize long-term success.
  • Integrity issues -- People who compromise too much might be perceived as shifty or devoid of principles. Everyone should stand (compete/collaborate) for something.
  • Cynicism -- Effective compromise requires a degree of gamesmanship. Over-use might foster an environment in which principles are sacrificed for personal gain.
  • Frustration -- Excessive compromise will ultimately result in everyone being only somewhat happy. Further, too many issues will be viewed as unresolved, thus increasing the chances that conflict will flare up at any time.
  • Sub-optimal solutions -- Decisions that result from compromise are almost invariably less harmonious than those that arise from collaboration.
  • Superficiality -- Agreements that only paper over differences with vague statements engender an element of disingenuous, superficiality.

Insufficient usage:

Some folks feel downright uncomfortable in bargaining situations. They don't like to haggle, or maybe they have difficulty verbalizing their feelings. Some people dislike compromise because they prefer not to make concessions. Others fear exploitation. Dangers of under-using compromise include:

  • Unnecessary confrontations -- You may find that you are butting heads with people on a frequent basis, or that relatively small issues often seem to get blown out of proportion. Such confrontations waste time and energy, damaging relationships in the process.
  • Power struggles -- People who rarely compromise are often viewed as unreasonable or even dangerous. Power struggles can result as people try to hold you back or make you concede.
  • Ineffective negotiating -- The art of negotiation is very heart of business life. Like any art, negotiation must be practiced if one hopes to improve one's lot. If you don't often compromise, that means you're likely not often negotiating. Too little practice might spell trouble when you're suddenly required to negotiate something important for yourself.

Necessary skills:

In order to effectively compromise, you must have a keen sense of your own values and needs. How much does each aspect of an issue mean to you? With that information, you can determine which lines to draw and where. The compromising mode makes use of the following skills:

  • Concessions – Compromise requires concessions. You must be willing to give up some of what you want.
  • Creativity -- The key to compromise is finding the middle ground, an answer that's fair to both parties. Finding that balance of sacrifices and gains requires creativity.
  • Assessing value -- Fundamental to effective compromise is the ability to assess value from both personal and business perspectives. You must know yourself, what you want and what you can handle.
  • Open mind -- It may be necessary to modify your conclusions about certain issues in order to find consensus and move forward.

Return to the main page for information on the other four conflict-resolution modes and how to work with them to help keep your job.


About the authors: Maureen Clarry and Kelly Gilmore Dignan are co-owners of CONNECT: The Knowledge Network.

CONNECT is the only company that uses a workforce effectiveness approach called Human Performance Optimization™, to connect their clients with the best Information Technology consultants to solve specific business problems. CONNECT optimizes IT personnel performance through management consulting and training around organizational issues related to IT.

CONNECT was featured in The Data Warehousing Institute's (TDWI ) Best of Business Intelligence 2003 for an article entitled, "Predictable Pitfalls, Paths to Partnership." CONNECT is on the faculty of TDWI and teaches regularly on leadership issues related to data warehousing. Other TDWI publications authored by CONNECT include: "10 Mistakes to Avoid When Building a Data Warehouse Team, 10 mistakes to avoid when choosing a data warehousing consultant and How to choose a data warehousing consultant. CONNECT also participates on the Data Warehousing Advisory Board for The Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.

CONNECT was recognized as the 2000 South Metro Denver Small Business of the Year, and has been listed in the Top 100 Women Owned Businesses, the Top 250 Privately Owned Businesses in Colorado, and by the Denver Business Journal as one of Denver's Forty Under 40 Business Leaders.

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