Compromise Equals Give and Take to Reach Détente


We watch our politicians juggle the fine line of give and take daily. Sometimes, it’s negotiating a cease fire somewhere in the world or in Congress where rapprochement seems to be almost impossible to achieve these days with so many disagreements. 

One of us watched a TV show recently where a young daughter, 10, had picked out a very flashy, slinky, short dress to wear for a party with her grandmother’s help and approval. It was more suitable for a grown up, but we thought she looked adorable in it, a mini flapper. Her mother was appalled. “You can’t wear that. Go up and change and the dress is going back.” The daughter was hurt and reacted with disgust. “You said I could choose. I don’t want to dress like you, frumpy, dumpy,” or something to that effect. We’re paraphrasing all the conversations, so you get the drift.

The dress went back, the mother-daughter didn’t speak, and the grandmother weighed in. “It’s only a dress; let her have her way, don’t you remember when you wore such and such or your sister did so?” No, the mother didn’t. But the silence between her and her daughter gnawed at her and eventually she realized the error of her ways, repurchased the dress and what occurred was that proverbial Hollywood happy ending. And keep in mind, that was television, not real life. 

In the real world, as we all know, compromises can be excruciating to reach. It may sometimes come after a struggle, strong words, yelling, tears, throwing objects, and other bad behavior. Friendships and marriages have been broken by the lack of them. Wars have certainly started, people killed and more. 

We’d like to propose rethinking how important it is to reach harmony before a situation blows up, whether small or large. And often, it requires waiting to speak, really listening to the other person and their wish, their reasons rather than reacting so quickly based on yours. 

You really want to go to a certain restaurant or to a certain vacation spot. Your partner or spouse wants to go to another. Rather than immediately saying, “NO, I really don’t have any interest and the food sounds terrible.” How about going and you choose the next places to eat and travel. Compromise. 

One of us watches House Hunters on HGTV. Couples bicker over house styles of different eras and seem stuck in their choices. However, in the end, they compromise and are pictured happily in their new digs and touting the fact that perhaps one party got more—that three-car garage--because the other one gave in with the promise of being able to renovate the master bath and put in a large coveted soaking tub. Compromise. 

Your neighbor wants to put up a fence between your houses and have you split the cost. You’re incensed. If they want the fence, let them foot the bill, you think. Then, you realize you’ll benefit too with some additional privacy. You offer your solution. “I can’t afford it right now,” but will pay my portion when I can, or “OK, let me be in on the design, height, style, price range.” That way you have a say, too. Fences can make good neighbors as poet Robert Frost suggested. Compromise. 

Or rather than reacting to a colleague’s request to insert a name or give a credit a different way and feeling you must have your way since it’s your project, how about listening to the reason for its importance and reconsidering so everyone feels it’s a win. Another compromise. 

Compromise doesn’t have to mean giving up your most important values regarding religion, politics, food choices or whatever. It’s equivalent to bending a bit. You simply edge closer temporarily to meet their viewpoint versus draw the line in the sand that you absolutely, positively, won’t change your point of view. Instead, in those cases where you just can’t agree, at least do so respectfully and acknowledge the other person’s side. “I hear you. This is what I think you’re saying” Then calmly and kindly add why you feel the way you do. Don’t throw in that you think their idea is idiotic or outrageous or anything insulting. Instead phrase it as “I don’t agree this time. I hope you understand my point of view too.” They may or may not, but you tried. 

Sometimes, you don’t have to win or gain something from the compromise even though compromise is defined as concessions. Perhaps, in some cases the concession can simply be hearing and understanding the other side’s reason. Then you can pat yourself on the back for being such a good active listener.


  • Xenia

    What a well-written article about this important topic. Your giving examples is helpful, especially since we don’t see much of this in our politics these days. Compromise can make us better people.

  • Audrey Steuer

    So well presented. There are many people in leadership in our country and within our own personal circles who need to read this! Thank you!

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