Exploring the Five Approaches to Conflict, Part 5: Compromising

This is a five-part series on exploring the approaches to conflict. The five approaches are: avoiding, accommodating, collaborating, competing, and compromising. Just to note, no one is a purist in his or her approach. Everyone has some elements of the five approaches to conflict in their repertoires. The approach you use is dependent on the environment (at work, at home), and the person with whom the conflict is (friend, partner, coworker). We choose our battles. Today, I will explore compromising, the last and most interesting approach to conflict.

Approaches to conflict chart

Compromising: defined

Compromising involving getting something for giving something. You are in the middle. You collaborate a bit, but you are also avoiding. Competing and accommodating comes easy. There is no zero-sum in compromising because there is give-and-take. Compromising might seem like the best approach to conflict, but there are some drawbacks. If you compromise, it often leads to both sides losing out as both agree to give up too much because neither understands what the other values.

Compromising is necessary

We have to compromise. Anytime you negotiate, which is often, compromise is usually the best approach because collaboration is not on the table. If you are negotiating a contract, compromising on salary or benefits or flexibility comes at a cost. The employer compromises on those same things to get you. When you are buying a car, you compromise on the price as the salesperson needs to earn a commission, and you want the best price for what you are getting.

We compromise all the time in many aspects of our life. Many say that a romantic relationship is one big compromise. You give up a bit of yourself to gain the benefit of the partnership. Compromise is in the middle because it is easiest to get to from all sides. That is why compromising is necessary. It is substantially more challenging to get an avoider to collaborate or a competer to accommodate than to get anyone to compromise. People are willing to compromise because they have a gain and they give up something. Unfortunately, our compromises often fail because we evaluate subjectively.

How to compromise without giving up or taking too much

Compromising well requires balancing the give-and-take. If you give up too much, your compromising turns into accommodating. If you take too much, your compromising turns into competing. Finding the balance requires finding out what the other person values. More than identifying the issues, you have to find valuation. Understanding what the person with whom you are in conflict values will need a lot of practice asking good, clarification questions.

After you figure out the questions to ask, you have to listen with intention. You might find out that what the other person values, you do not. Or you might find out that you value the same thing equally. This requires a lot of honesty. If you are honest about what you value in the conflict and why, you are more likely to compromise without giving or taking too much. You are more likely to compromise without losing.

Being vulnerable and being honest in conflict

If you are honest about your values during your conflict, you might feel vulnerable. If you feel too embarrassed to admit your values because of any reason, you are more likely to lose the compromise. You have to show vulnerability, willing to admit your values. Showing vulnerability often leads to others showing theirs. As proper as it is, being vulnerable and addressing your values leads to a better compromise. A central compromise is the goal of a compromise, and knowing yours and others’ values leads the way. Reframe the way you think about conflict to excel at it. Practice.

Next Week: Adapting your Conflict Style to your situation

After spending five weeks discussing the approaches to conflict, it makes sense to spend few weeks discussing applying these approaches. To start, I will discuss how to adapt your conflict style to get the most out of the situation you are in.