Ask Alignor

When should I compromise?

Let’s face it: no one really likes to compromise. We do it because we think we have to, or because we think we should. Or we do it because it is better than not compromising and incurring the consequences of not coming to an agreement. But those examples of reasons we compromise do not mean we like compromising. Why do we not like to compromise? Because compromise involves us giving something up we want. (We are not talking here about “fake” compromises that are part of playing the “game” of negotiation, but real compromise when you have to give up something you really want.) So two ground rules can help you avoid the damage to relationships and unnecessary misery that repeatedly compromising can bring. First, you should only compromise at the end of the negotiation process (and then only if it makes more sense to compromise than not come to agreement). This will reduce your counterpart’s temptation to engage in “nibbling,” where they try to get more and more concessions out of you. The second ground rule is you should compromise as infrequently as possible. If you find yourself compromising repeatedly, it is a sign of suboptimal negotiating. Before you fall into the habit of compromising, which as noted will bring you misery if you do it too often, you should be sure you understand all your own interests as well as the interests of other stakeholders. Then you should look for new and creative ways to satisfy those interests (without necessarily resorting to compromise).