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I work for an organization for which the buzz word "compromise" has great appeal. However, I am not a fan of compromise - I feel that it should be used as a last - very last - resort. I think that operations generally run more smoothly if the person with the better idea gets his / her way. However, in my organization almost all differences are "resolved" by compromise even where difficult people who disagree as a matter of course are involved - on the simple belief that compromise is always the best option. However, I feel that compromise can be used as a means of control, as a way of ensuring that the other person cannot win, etc. What is your opinion?

June 15, 2008

Response from Peter S. Fosl on June 17, 2008
You're right that compromise can be used as a form of control. But so can being uncompromising. Compromise can sometimes impede efficiency; but sometimes it can facilitate it. From where I sit, I don't think that one can defend as a general principle either the idea that compromise or being uncompromising is better. When and where to compromise is a matter of art--or, perhaps in more philosophical terms, a matter of prudence, in the sense of practical wisdom. Much depends upon the context: what sort of people are involved, what's at stake, what the purpose and mission of the institution is, what sort of time and resource constraints one faces. There's a great deal of difference in making a decision about what to do about an imminent ICBM attack and what sort of retirement hobbies one might explore. In addition, compromise does work better, in my experience, when those involved have cultivated certain complementary habits and sensibilities. That is compromise works best when people value compromise, appreciate when to persist, when to give way, how to listen, how to argue a point in a civil and logical and sensitive way, how to be circumspect, how to see and appreciate the strengths and weakness of others in a group, how to see and appreciate one's own strengths and weaknesses, and how to be patient. I myself try to work towards consensus as much as possible. But I also recognize that there are contexts where consensus, as well as compromise, simply doesn't matter.


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