Compromising When Compromise Is Hard

credit to  John Baldoni  |
(HBR)

“If you want to get along, you have to go along,” was the advice legendary Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn gave to members of Congress. It was the mantra by which he governed the House of Representatives.

While Rayburn’s adage is focused on what it takes to succeed within a legislative body, it applies equally to functioning successfully with colleagues in any organization. The nut of Rayburn’s words mean you have to learn to give a little to get something in return: In other words, you have to compromise.

Today, I see too many people who see compromise as a bad thing, an abandonment of principle. In reality, a willingness to compromise is a sign of great conviction: the conviction that the organization comes first.

As easy as that sounds, it is remarkably hard to adopt.

Start by understanding the other person or group’s point of view. Our ego often prevents us from seeing what others see — and, worse, prevents us from seeing the merits of their case. Strong willed people often become so consumed by the power of their ideas that it prevents them from examining and understanding another’s point of view. We discard their viewpoint before we even understand it, or we deny its validity before we’ve given it significant thought. When that occurs, any chance of compromise is lost.

To better understand their point of view, lead with open-ended questions and statements, those designed to stimulate conversation:

  • Tell me about ____.
  • Why do you feel that way?
  • How can we do it better?
  • Help me understand the issue more clearly.

This kind of conversation enables individuals to share their perspectives as well as their suggestions. It should lead to deeper levels of understanding. But what if it doesn’t?

If talking doesn’t work, another way to reach a better understanding is to experience the other person’s perspective firsthand. For example, visit your colleague in their office. Seek to understand the forces and the people that are shaping their point of view. Meet with their bosses. If the boss is opposed to a compromise, your ability to negotiate with his subordinate may be doomed, but it is worthwhile to make the effort. Compromise may not work this time, but it may be possible at a later date.

If you run into roadblocks, make respect your watchword. Both act in a way that lets your counterpart respect you, and remember to always treat your counterpart with respect. This lays the foundation for mutual trust, which makes compromise much easier.

Respect also allows good people to disagree — sometimes vigorously — without animosity. You may be heated in your argument, but you are not irritated with the other person. This is liberating. You can both channel your passion for the work into something constructive. Far from “abandoning your principles,” you’re both proceeding from a place of deepest conviction.

Perhaps Vince Lombardi framed the benefits of compromise best. “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” While leadership is an individual effort, it must be focused on doing what the organization needs in order to succeed.

But you don’t need a fancy title to have this impact. You can lead your peers by setting the right example, one that people are not compelled to follow but one that people want to follow — because they respect your point of view and your ability to get things done right.

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