by CIO Staff

The Art of Compromise

Mar 07, 20066 mins
IT Leadership

News coming from Washington these days reflects the discord of politicians arguing over issues from judicial nominations to Social Security. Civility and collaboration among political adversaries greased the wheels of the American political process for much of the 20th century. No longer! Given the polarity of the American electorate, compromise has come to be equated with selling out. Comity between adversaries has gone by the wayside

By contrast, business demonstrates in many ways how to prosper through compromise. In a free market society, conceiving, developing and delivering a product or service is filled with hundreds of compromises that balance the needs of the consumer to obtain value with the needs of the producer to make a profit.

Creating Unity

Compromise is not a betrayal of values. It is an agreement over a position where both sides come away with something to their liking. Not every compromise is a good one. General Motors’ compromise with its unions over health and pensions in the late 1990s has resulted in legacy costs today approaching $2,500 per vehicle, which the company can ill afford to absorb. On the other hand, compromise between oil producers and the environmentalists has resulted in the implementation of drilling methods that are more ecologically compatible, in addition to the creation and preservation of natural habitats.

Compromise ensures the common interest, and so is a valuable practice for managers to learn and implement. Why? Because compromise is a means by which the talent and skills of a diverse team can be harnessed for the completion of a project. Compromise ensures that people participate and their collaboration overcomes not only inertia but also resistance. Here are some ways to encourage compromise.

  • Insist on collaboration. Reflect for a moment on your most positive team experience. It may be something that occurred in high school athletics or you may be experiencing it right now in your workplace. If you consider why the team succeeded, it is due not simply to the individual proficiencies of teammates, but it was everyone’s ability to meld together, not always as friends, but as collaborators who respect one another’s talents and abilities. That’s teamwork. In a larger picture, it is the collaboration of individuals for the greater good, e.g., producing intended results in the form of winning games or winning in the marketplace. How can managers insist on collaboration? The first way is through example. Make it known that you are willing to share the hardships, be it longer hours or more difficult assignments. A second way is through open and honest communications. Set clear expectations and be available to listen and learn from others on the team.

  • Leverage dissent. The job of employees is not to agree with the boss 100 percent of the time. Employees should feel free to offer alternate points of view about how the work is done, or about the intended results. At the same time, the managers have a right to expect that the work will be done on time and on budget. Managers may also insist on adherence to standards of quality and practice and exact discipline when those metrics are not met. But within that framework there is room for dissent. Creative tension over ideas provokes good thinking and rigorous analysis. The development of marketing campaigns resembles a laboratory for collaborative thinking. Product offering and research are combined with lots of clever minds to develop strategies and creative that make the offering desirable, accessible and available to the consumer, be it a company or an individual. Managers can encourage dissent through the process of appreciative inquiry – that is, the asking of questions designed to elicit different ideas as well as affirm rights of people who want to ask questions.

  • Seek comity. One of the reasons people shy away from compromise is that they feel it is not worth jeopardizing team harmony. True to a degree, perhaps, but team unity is threatened more seriously by failure to compromise. When individuals on a team are competing among themselves to deliver on a project, it is psychologically wearing. As mentioned above, creative tension can be a positive, but emotional tension erodes comity and provokes disagreements and disputes that are directed at personalities rather than projects. It therefore falls to the manager to assuage egos and soothe over hard feelings. Compromises where parties share in the process as well as share in the rewards will make the workplace more harmonious. Sometimes gratification will be deferred. Surrender on one point may not deliver a personal gain, but it will demonstrate that the individual has the strength of character to be a good team player. Such recognition may be the most valuable outcome of compromise.

Comprise as a Sign of StrengthAs valued as compromise may be to organizational health, there are two instances, at least, where compromise can be damaging. The first instance is ethics. When you compromise over hiring someone with a questionable background, or look the other way over a suspect invoice or inflated expense report, you eat away at the integrity of the organization. Just as one bad apple will spoil the barrel, one bad actor can damage the reputation of an organization and do it irreparable harm. A second instance is values, which are defined as the truths and beliefs that bind people to an organization. When athletes dope themselves to enhance performance, values are thrown by the wayside because dopers violate the spirit of their sport as well as the sanctity of competition. They un level the playing field to the detriment of fellow athletes, spectators and themselves. Everyone loses.

Compromise is considered an art because it does not result from a process diagram or an employee handbook. Genuine compromise emerges from looking to the hearts and minds of your people to find best possible solutions. Ideally, compromise creates win win situations, but not always. Very often the one who compromises the most is the one who has the most to lose. For example, a project manager who is willing step back from the team and allow others to add their ideas, as well as their labor, to make the project come along may sacrifice her own pet ideas for the good of the whole. That is compromise of the highest order. And it is also known by another name – leadership.