Watching the dysfunctional reality show on Capitol Hill is a classic example of what happens when there’s no “civil” left in civil discourse.
Is comprise a bad word these days? If you’ve paid attention to Washington over the last few weeks, you might think so. In fact, watching the dysfunctional reality show on Capitol Hill is a classic example of what happens when there’s no “civil” left in civil discourse.
Projects take longer than they should.
Business gets personal.
And, ultimately, no one wins in the end.
So now that our reps have given us an example of what NOT to do – bravo, people! – here are a few things to keep in mind when you need to find the middle ground on a team without an act of Congress.
1. Comprise, by nature, isn’t a zero-sum game. In other words, you’ll go a lot further if you take a we’re-all-in-this-together approach versus dividing your group into phony camps based on their position.
As we’ve seen, pitting people against each other who are ultimately on the same side is cancerous to effective negotiation. The very first thing you should do when trying to obtain a compromise is to reinforce the fact that no one is going to “lose.” Not everyone will get exactly what they want, but no one will walk away empty-handed.
2. Focus on mutual purpose. After you’ve got the team thinking less black and more grey, it’s time to discover your collective North Star. So before you dive into the potentially controversial minutia, zoom out and really spend some quality time discovering broad stroke items the group can agree on. Then, once you have written agreement on what the finish line looks like, post it on the wall (or online) where everyone can see it.
Moving forward, this document will become your guide point, making group decision-making a lot easier. All you’ll have to do is ask, “Does this idea get us closer to X?” If it does, it stays on the table. If it doesn’t, the group can vote it down.
3. Respect the process, even when you disagree with the person. The surest way to kill a negotiation is to challenge the credibility or dignity of anyone who disagrees with you. If you want to get nowhere – fast – be sure to employ this tactic freely. (There are plenty of examples to choose from.) On the other hand, if you’re interested in actually moving forward, you have to keep your emotions in check by consciously maintaining soft language and tone, focusing on facts versus opinion, genuinely seeking to understand opposing viewpoints, and l-i-s-t-e-n-i-n-g as much as (if not more than) you talk.
Obviously, this doesn’t come as naturally as, say, blurting out what we think as soon as it comes to us, but a respectful environment is as critical to compromise as the very air we breathe. So when you notice the tone of your meeting falling (even slightly) into contention, stop immediately and see No. 2.
4. Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. In advance of any negotiation, prepare a list of steadfast items (areas where you’re less willing to compromise) and flexible items (areas where you’re more willing to concede). This doesn’t have to be a lengthy exercise, but it must be done prior to any discussions so you’re less likely to make decisions on the spot. Also, as you’re crafting these lists, really spend some time thinking about the merits of your steadfast items so you will be prepared to defend them if needed.
You want to keep the list private so as not to “show your hand” during the negotiations, but don’t be afraid to refer to it often in the meetings. Finally, don’t get too hung up if you lose some of the items on your steadfast list. The only thing you should consider 100 percent non-negotiable are ethical matters. Other than that, everything is on the table.
We all know compromise isn’t easy (if it was, everyone would do it) but that doesn’t mean it has to be as hard as we make it sometimes.
So whether it’s the state of the economy or the state of your project, when everyone contributes with an open mind and constructive dialogue, you’re in a much better position to make savvy decisions, ultimately leading to smart actions. And that’s something I think we can all agree on.
Emily Bennington is coauthor of “Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job,” a business book for new grads. She can be reached online at or on Twitter .