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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Never Overcompromise

          Treat compromise very carefully. It won’t take you anywhere worth going to.
          We’re hearing the word “compromise” everywhere. It has the glow of a Holy Grail: If only the parties had compromised in Washington, we wouldn't all have gone helplessly off the fiscal cliff (which actually turned out to be more a very costly and uncomfortable downslope).
Discount for the moment the reality that the fiscal cliff is an illusion, an inspired political confection that generates sufficient heat to fuel an urgent . . . ultimately meaningless . . . debate.  It does not connect to reality.
No question there’s a problem in Washington, but no matter what they do or don’t do about it, there will be no precipitous plunge into the national financial ruin implied by the concept. There will be plenty of time to avoid an actual crisis. And plenty of options. Plenty of incentives. For one thing, the increased taxes won't be due until April 1214. For another, the elections blew away some expectations.
This does NOT mean there aren’t important decisions to be made. There are, and they are difficult ones. Check with your local economist or other knowledgeable realist. Or a noninvolved politician.
Suffice it to say that the matter of the fiscal cliff is a fine example of the cloudiness that often obscures our route to common cause amid differing – conflicting – demands.  

Compromise won’t solve that situation. Nor is it of much use in our own daily and periodic situations. This is especially true because the word “compromise” as we hear it around us usually is inaccurate in describing whatever it is the speaker means.
We toss the word around in everyday discussion and express it in considering serious problems. We don’t want disagreement, we say – we want compromise.
We ought to stop using it that way, especially in important matters, personal and political. Compromise doesn't produce solutions. It is a way to ease a confrontation without solving the problem.
You don’t want a compromise. You want a solution. You don’t want to compromise, you want to collaborate. Or, if you don’t want to actually work together, you at least want to get somewhere.
Don’t compromise, then. Half a loaf doesn’t satisfy. You just got some of what you want or need, but the matter remains unresolved. There is more to be done. Progress is not yet possible.

“No compromise!”
That's worse. It means disastrous suicide when it declares rigid adherence to one's starting point, unyielding resistance to any negotiation with those of differing views. That's not what we want, and that is not what is being advocated here.
An uncompromising attitude arises from a narrow definition of one’s constituency as a warring faction whose position cannot sustain the slightest softening. It is blind to the inescapable reality that we’re all in this together. Sooner or later, my brother’s situation merges with mine.
If this strategy prevails, it doesn't mean victory. Even if you win a fight to the finish, it's not a victory with value. You have created a whole class of people who have ample motivation to withhold, subvert and lie in wait for openings to counterattack. Short-term triumph ensures longterm failure.
In fact, in negotiating differences, you should not start with a concrete end point at all. To be successful, you don’t set out to compromise, you set out to accomplish something that has worth. Compromise can't do that.

Compromise is too narrow. As a process, it starts with a belief that your goal is to achieve a specific, predetermined outcome. It’s a zero-sum game in which the other party is a competitor, sometimes an antagonist. The more you get, the less he/she gets. If you can’t get it all, you give up as little as you have to.
This assures a limited outcome, at best, and often results in a souring of relationships that is costly to everybody for a long time. It’s really dumb
The better word is “solution.” It requires an entirely different way of addressing situations. Its process is collaborative, open-ended and creative. It’s what the Harvard Negotiating Program calls “issues bargaining,” as contrasted with the “positional bargaining” of the compromise approach. 
What does everybody want? What does everybody need? 
You don’t define a specific result based on the known available resources. You commit to understanding and achieving what you really want and need. You don’t know exactly how to get there, and you don’t specify in advance what it looks like. You do your homework, but you leave the matter open.
Then you devote yourself to an honest, open and patient effort to gain a similar understanding of what it's all about for the other party or parties. Together with them, you seek out and use whatever is available to work toward a mutually useful result.        
This is respectful, creative collaboration. It takes work, it takes preparation, it takes communication skills of a high order. It takes professionalism. It takes time. Inevitably, it is  successful. 

It is not compromise. Never compromise. Instead, solve.

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