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. No one is a purist in his or her approach. Everyone uses some elements of the five approaches to conflict. The approach we use depends on our environment (e.g., work, home), and the person (e.g., 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 involves getting something for giving something. We are in the middle. We collaborate, and we avoid. Competing and accommodating come easy. Compromising isn’t zero-sum because there is give-and-take. Compromising might seem like the best approach to conflict, but some drawbacks exist. When we 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 we negotiate, which is often, compromising is the best approach because collaboration is not on the table. When we negotiate a contract, we compromise on salary, benefits, or flexibility at a cost. Our employers compromise because we are the best candidate. When we buy a car, we compromise on the price because the salesperson needs to earn a commission, and we want the best price for what we are getting.

We compromise all the time in many aspects of our lives. Experts believe that romantic relationships are one big compromise. We give up a bit of ourselves to gain the benefit of our partnership. Compromise lives in the middle because it is easiest to get to from all sides.

That’s why compromising is necessary. It’s substantially more challenging to move an avoider to collaborate or a competer to accommodate than to get anyone (and any approach to conflict) to compromise. People compromise because they have something to gain and are willing to give something up. Unfortunately, our compromises often fail because we evaluate the gains and losses subjectively.

Compromising without giving up or taking too much

Compromising well requires balancing give-and-take. When we give up too much, our compromises turn into accommodations. When we take too much, our compromises turn into competitions. Finding balance requires finding out what the other person values. More than identifying the issues, we have to find valuation. Understanding what the other person values requires practice asking good, clarifying questions.

After we figure out what questions to ask, we must listen with intention. We might find out that what the other person values. Or we might find out that WE equally value the same thing. This requires a lot of honesty. If we are honest about what we value in our conflicts and why, we are more likely to compromise without giving up or taking too much. We are more likely to compromise without losing.

Being vulnerable and honest in conflict

When we are honest about our values during conflict, we feel vulnerable. If we feel too embarrassed to admit our values, we are more likely to lose the compromise. We must show vulnerability, willing to admit our values. Showing vulnerability often leads to others showing theirs. As proper as it is, being vulnerable and addressing our 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 our Conflict Styles

After spending 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 our conflict styles to get the most out of the situations we are in. If you don’t want to go at this alone, I’m available