Mountains cannot meet, but people can
In dealing with complex give-and-take issues, I am reminded of the fable where a dog with a bone comes to a pond and sees its reflection in the water. It thinks it sees another dog with a bone and tries to grab that one too. In doing so, it drops its bone in the water and winds up with nothing.
No one side can have it all. Both sides in an issue can't afford to come up empty -- without a bone -- on certain issues. However, with cooperation and compromise from all parties, most things can be worked out.
Compromise is often looked upon as weakness. When President Harry Truman was pushing to complete a difficult program, he was asked whether he would settle for half a loaf. He said he would be willing to settle for one slice at a time.
Politics involve constant compromise. Business does too: negotiating contracts, hiring, closing sales, to name a few.
Certainly, there are times when you cannot nor should not compromise: on your principles, for example. Never give in on ethics or potentially illegal activities. It's unacceptable to be less than honest in your dealings.
You know what you need, what you are prepared to give up, what you will never budge on. Do you know whether the other party knows what they want, what they need and what they are willing to give on?
Fred Jandt, author of Win/Win Negotiating, says, "Keep in mind that the better you understand what you want and why you want it, the better your chances will be of acquiring it."
Do you carry a Visa card? Its genesis was the result of a genuine compromise. Karl Weick shares the story in Managing as Designing.
In the early 1970s, National BankAmericard Incorporated turned around the Bank of America's faltering credit card business in the United States. Soon after, BankAmericard licensees around the world wanted NBI's help too. The problems were enormous: each licensee had different marketing, computer and operational systems, as well as different language, currency, culture and legal systems. Banks were using computer punch cards and tape, and there was no Internet. After nearly two years of tense negotiations, the organizing committee met to try to resolve three deal-breaking disagreements. Positions had hardened and compromise seemed unlikely.
Shortly before that meeting, committee chairman Dee Hock reflected on how much the international group had achieved. It dawned on him that "at critical moments, all participants had felt compelled to succeed . . . all had been willing to compromise. They had not thought of winning or losing but of a larger sense of purpose and concept of community that could transcend and enfold them."
The final meeting was contentious. The Canadian banks refused to participate and withdrew, so Hock said they would reconvene the next morning in order to plan how to disband. Before adjourning, Hock invited everyone to a grand dinner that evening in recognition of their efforts to try to make the organization work.
After dinner, there was brief reminiscing about shared experiences and obstacles overcome. Then the servers placed a small wrapped gift in front of each person. Hock asked everyone to open them.
He said: "We wanted to give you something that you could keep ... as a reminder of this day. On one cufflink is half of the world surrounded with the phrase 'the will to succeed' and the second cufflink is the other half of the world and the phrase 'the grace to compromise.' We meet tomorrow for the final time to disband the effort after two arduous years. I have one last request. Will you please wear the cufflinks to the meeting in the morning? When we part we will take with us a reminder for the rest of our lives that the world can never be united through us because we lack the will to succeed and the grace to compromise. But if by some miracle our differences dissolve before morning, this gift will remind us that the world was united because we did have the will to succeed and the grace to compromise."
Then Hock sat down. Absolute silence, until one of Hock's Canadian friends exclaimed, "You miserable bastard!" The room erupted in laughter.
The next morning everyone was wearing the cufflinks. By noon, agreement was reached on every issue and VISA International was born.
Mackay's Moral: Compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that each party thinks they get a bigger piece.