There is no more effective way to agitate a mediator than to suggest that the result of a mediation was a compromise for all involved. While compromise is a basic negotiation practice, where both sides give up something they initially wanted in order to reach an agreement, it is sometimes looked upon as a lose-lose outcome; finding a quick middle-ground where everyone is left dissatisfied to some degree. Compromise is often necessary, especially to resolve a complicated issue when there are time constraints, but it is sometimes used as a shortcut and prevents a solution that would have been more positive for all sides, but requires more time, skill and discussion to achieve.
In a business partnership resolving conflicts though continued compromises rather than taking the time to look for ways to collaboratively find solutions can lead to resentment and ongoing tension. Partners must compromise on small issues for the sake of efficiency, but knowing the difference between small things and seemingly small things that are part of bigger problems can be tricky. When there is a compromise, what is often remembered is what was given up, rather than what was received. As uncertainties play out, what was given up may take on even more weight.
Researchers Ralph Kilmann and Kenneth Thomas designed a diagnostic to test natural tendencies for dealing with conflict on a matrix plotting cooperation and assertiveness (below). Predictably, compromise is plotted in the middle, neither fully assertive nor fully cooperative: the ultimate middle ground. Collaboration is seen as both fully assertive and fully cooperative, an approach to conflict that should fully satisfy the concerns of those involved.
How to stay out of a cycle of compromise and move toward collaboration:
The ability to collaborate is what most people are looking for when they are part of a partnership; it is based on the idea that partners are on the same side in facing the challenges of their business, but their interests can sometimes become unaligned and collaboration becomes very difficult. In these cases, compromising serves as a stop-gap measure until the partners have the time to dig deeper into the issues. In many businesses, however, there never seems to be time to step back and assess, so it is important to:
- Take the time to understand the underlying issues in a conflict; especially those that arise repeatedly.
- Consider the issue from the perspective of your partner, even building a case for their view.
- Think creatively about solutions; become comfortable with discussions that include unconventional approaches.
Partners generally know when they are doing too much compromising and not addressing underlying issues. Imbedding these techniques into your partnership communication can prevent serious conflict and help focus on managing your business.