The word COMPROMISE seems to produce a range of emotions, reactions and comments depending on who is listening.
“No one ever remembers a great compromise.”
My starting point for understanding compromise occurred in the white heat of alpha capitalism where it was legitimate for the winner to take all. This casino like attitude of winning and losing deflated the winner’s sensitivity for the consequences suffered by the loser. Freed, the protagonist treated the episode as a mere transaction and quickly moved on.
Within an intercultural setting we move from isolated transactions to societies and a timeline of connected events. Repetition may lead to escalating pain and negative beliefs for the loser. Over time, this produces a reaction – passive aggression, non-cooperation, resistance and accumulated feelings of resentment.
From a cultural perspective compromise can foster pragmatism, diplomacy and an emphasis on fostering long-term relationships. This creates a different social dynamic and energy. Here the outcome of “not quite to win / not quite win” may have the benefit of preserving a bond that will undoubtedly yield greater value over subsequent weeks, months and years.
In the Cartesian exchange of logic and rational questioning, the outcome of a compromise can be seen as an optimal solution that achieves the least worst outcome for both parties. In such a way we can ascribe a positive quality to this sometimes dirty word.
Mediator Paul Rathbone talks of the “amygdala hijack” a triggering of our primitive brain that produces the fight, flight or freeze response. This explains your neighbour’s angry outburst over a 10 cm boundary infringement in the garden or when you play Black Sabbath songs too late and too loud in the evening.
Here the starting position is a war cry – “revenge.”
Often it is the job of the mediator to bring competing parties to the table and with hard work, illustrate the costs of their competitive strategy in order to lay the groundwork for a mediated solution. The mediator’s magic works when the parties are ready to consider a deal that is “good enough” or accept something that both parties can “live with.”
It is when empathic listening skills encompass the consequence for the other party’s of one’s actions that the shift occurs.
The benefits of compromise
It preserves “face” and honour. It can save time, reduce the risk of retribution and it can preserve one of our most important and undervalued commodities – a give and take alliance.
It is the reputation – saving quality of a decent compromise that is frequently missed. Many cultures and communities value the status of their figureheads and require them to fight and win against foreign bodies.
It is in this spirit that the Golden Bridge of a dignified retreat is critical to reaching a longer-term mutually agreed settlement that yields the positive result of peace and prosperity.
It is a good General who knows when to fight. It is a great one who knows when to beat a hasty or even an undignified retreat.
So, what is the lesson here?
Can we build our self-awareness to a level where we know when our primitive brain is running the show? Can we interrupt our full pursuit of primitive revenge? Can we intervene and shout “STOP”, sidestep the caveman within us and re-engage our intellect to pursue a better path? Can we learn the reasonable allocation of assets through the pursuit of a dignified dialogue?
Will we now seek out optimum benefit for all parties with minimum damage to the status quo?
Homework – Test yourself tomorrow…
When you next receive a slight, challenge or provocation what will you do? Will your first thought be to avenge a wrong? And will your second be to calm your inner caveman? Hopefully your third thought will focus on creating mechanisms to preserve your relationship and to not inflict quite so much damage as you initially wished? Good luck with the struggle…
Matthew Hill is a culture and diversity facilitator working with international corporate executives.