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Say ‘no’ to compromise during negotiation

 February 2019 |  Martin Fuller

To compromise is to give up something you want to keep, in order to obtain a solution to the problem you are facing. By definition, in a compromise situation you lose. This is not to be confused with concessions, which are often called compromises, but they are not. A concession is where you trade something to receive something else in return. Concessions in negotiation are outside the scope of this blog. I will write about concessions separately.

So the compromise in question is where both parties get something neither wants. For example, both partners agree to go out. One wants to go dancing but the other wants to see a film. They both then compromise on dinner, which neither wanted. I have been involved in and overseen numerous negotiations, and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly parties, lawyers and judges will look to the compromise option, obtaining an unsatisfactory outcome leaving everyone feeling let down and disappointed.

In complex negotiations, it is important to ask questions. See my blog ‘Learn to listen, question, and walk away…’. In investigative negotiations we should ask ‘why’ not ‘what’ questions. When we focus on what people want we get distracted from the real issue, which is why they want it. When preparing for negotiation it is just as important to know why we do not want something as it is to know why we do want something.

The famous story of two girls arguing over the last orange in the fruit bowl illustrates this point. Both girls wanted the orange, their mother said she was going out for a while and when she returned if they had not agreed how to share the orange neither would have it. The girls agreed to cut the orange in half. When their mother returned they told her how they had resolved the problem. The mother asked if they were satisfied with the outcome. The eldest daughter was not, because she wanted the orange to eat and the youngest was not happy because she wanted the rind to bake a cake. If only they had asked ‘why’ questions, instead of jumping directly into a compromise.

To avoid compromise it is important to remember that good problem solving takes effort imagination and patience. Make sure you understand every nuance and keep an open mind. Never assume you know what something means to the other party. See ‘Your approach to the problem can become the problem’. Also, remember your opposite number cannot resolve matters without you, so you have time to reflect and create a mutually beneficial solution. In family negotiations the solution will usually only come by way of elimination. Do not be afraid to put forward alternatives. Think creatively and encourage your estranged partner to think similarly, so you are both working together to get the best value possible from the situation. In looking for a negotiated solution, both parties have to consent to the outcome and when you reach that consent there is real buy-in from you both. It is also important when the negotiation gets difficult, to remember it is not a contest to be won, but a situation to be resolved by creating the most ‘value’.

Compromised agreements often breed resentment, as either or both parties may be left feeling bullied, manipulated, cajoled or just out-smarted by the other in the negotiations. This bad feeling may have adverse consequences on the whole family long after the settlement. So be patient, imaginative and say ‘no’ to compromise during the negotiation.

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