Politicians use it all the time, Business executives use it, Parents use it too – the word; compromise.
We learn to compromise because we are told this is what we have to do when different values or interests collide. And we are proud when we have managed to seek a compromise whether it is in politics, at work or at home. In this short article I will argue that the whole idea of the compromise being a good thing is wrong. I will argue that the only reason we end up in compromises is because we don’t know better or we don’t have the power to reinforce our own will.
A compromise is probably the worst possible solution to a conflict
Very few people enjoy being in a conflict, so most of us are trying to get out of that situation as quickly as possible. This is because we are driven by a negative motivation (getting out of an unpleasant situation) rather than a positive motivation (lets see how we can leverage from the diversity). Because the motivation is negative we accept far from ideal solutions – usually poor compromises.
But compromises are bad – really bad actually.
Firstly none of the parties involved in the conflict get what they originally wanted, so there is a built-in dissatisfaction in a compromise. That is why we can hear politicians and business executives say that it was the best they could achieve. The truth is however that the results they achieve are not limited by the situation but solely by the level of cultural intelligence of the facilitator or leader.
Secondly; compromises are rarely sustainable because each of the parties will use any given opportunity to improve their position whenever it is possible. That means you can never truly rely on your partners in a compromise.
Thirdly; solutions, which are results of compromises are often much less effective than if one of the parties involved had it done his or her way. That is particular true in politics.
There is no alternative to a compromise
Wrong! You might not know it but it is there. It is called reconciliation and it differs from a compromise in that it builds on the strengths of the commonalities instead of weaknesses of the differences. But in order to be be able to reconcile you need to have a fairly high level of cultural intelligence. You need to be able to understand views opposing your own views. You need to be able to produce arguments that goes against you own point of view and finally you need to be creative and patient.
Over the years me and my colleagues in Gugin have facilitated hundreds of reconciliation processes often in situations where an organisation was on the edge of disintegration. All the cases we have worked with have a few things in common namely that the parties involved either had given up, was hoping for a miracle to happen or working towards a compromise.
If you are in a conflict you can achieve a compromise with the other party because of the reasons mentioned above. If however you want to pursue a reconciliation it is almost impossible to achieve that without an external facilitator who is not emotionally involed in the conflict. Furthermore the external facilitator will move the process forward even when it is painful and you might be tempted to give up.
When a reconciliation has been completet successfully that parties involved are often very happy, full of energy and most importantly they are committed to work together because they have achieved something they didn’t think was possible.
Most of the conflicts we help reconciling are rooted in differences between different departments in the same company; for instance between between the product development and sales departments.
A typical conflict in that situation is a discussion about who is most important – who is the dog and who is the tail. The product development partment will claim that they are the most important ones and therefore should have most influence. Without them there would be no products to sell. The sales people will claim they are the most important ones because they develop the market and make the sales even if the products are far from world class.
A conflict like that usually start as a friendly teasing, but it can easily escalate into regular fight between the departments, which eventually can take down the company. If the company was founded by engineers who came up with the idea for the product it is likely that the senior management will support the product development side in the conflict. Nokia is a good example of suct a company. When sales started to decline for Nokia it took them too long to realise what was going on primarily because the product development departments wouldn’t listen to the feedback they received from Nokia sales organisation.
The usual compromise
When a conflict like that escalates the senior management team usually try to seek a compromise in order to resolve the conflict. The compromise is usually either a change in the tier 2 management level, finansiel compensation, promises that things will change or focus groups with the purpose to improve collaboration and communication.
Needless to say that any of these initiatives solves the problem or brings the company in a better position, but it is as good as it gets when you only see the compromise as the solution.
The solution Gugin proposes
When a company or organisation asks us to help them we first identify the rebels. Most people don’t like rebels, but we love them. We love them because the have passion, emotions and courage enough to speak up. If for instance the sales director in a company is complaining a lot and challenges the senior management team it is probable because he loves the company and is willing to fight for it to suceed. If he was unhappy with the company he would just leave. That is why it is so important to identify and listen to the A-performing rebels in an organisation.
Going back to the chosen case.
We start by facilitating a session where all the parties involved are asked to focus on what they have in common and which common goals they have. That exercise changes the mindset completely because until this point they have only been focused on pointing out the differences.
The we will ask the product development to outline the best things about the sales department. We do a similar exercise with the sales department.
We then educate the people involved why we react as we do and they gradually develop a higher level of cultural intelligence. When you have achieved a certain level of cultural intelligence you react in a different way when other people behave in a way you don’t like. you be come curious and open-minded instead of prejudiced.
Then we will talk to the product development people and ask them which resources they need in order to develop new products that the market will like. They will of course say money as one of the factors. Then they will realise that the only way they can get more money is if the sales people can sell more.
When we ask the sales people what they need in order to sell more they will say outstanding products at the right time as one of the most important factors.
The two groups will become aware that they are dependent upon each other and it is not a question about who is wagging who. When there is an agreement about that everyone is on the same side of the table we can move on. Not towards a compromise but towards something much more fruitful.
The product development people need more money but they also need signs at an early stage about what is wanted in the marketplace. The sales people can provide that intelligence. When the product development department received the intelligence early they can bring new right products to the market much earlier and get a bigger market share. That leads to an increased profitability and a closer collaboration between the different departments in the company because they have seen the positive results of working together.
This is in rough terms what we do when we help companies improve performance and change the corporate culture.
If you want to learn more please read here: https://gugin.com/organisational-effectiveness/ and feel free to contact us for a confidential conversation about how we can assist you. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org