Conflict Resolution Approaches: Compromising

This is the fourth article in my Secrets of Conflict Resolution blog series.  The series is based on my presentation of the same name that I presented at Nebraska.Code().

The agenda for this series is:

  1. Conflict in the Workplace by the Number
  2. Conflict Resolution: Setting the Stage
  3. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Collaborating
  4. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Compromising
  5. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Smoothing
  6. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Forcing
  7. Approaches to Conflict Resolution: Withdrawal
  8. Understanding Group Dynamics
  9. Managing Conflict: 10 Tips to make you a Conflict Resolution Superstar

Conflict Resolution Approaches: Compromising

The next approach we are going to look at is Compromising, which is also referred to as a “give and take” approach or reconciling. With this approach, conflicting parties bargain to reach a mutually acceptable solution. Both parties give up something in order to reach a decision and leave with some degree of satisfaction.

The compromise approach is considered a lose/lose situation, since no party gets everything they wanted.

When to Use

So if compromising is considered to be lose/lose, why would you use it.  Well because sometimes a lose/lose situation is what the doctor calls for.

Both parties need to win

If sold right, compromising can look as if both parties win and there are times where that is just the case.  For example, let’s take the example of when your customer wants a deliverable within two weeks but your team says that it is going to take four weeks to get everything the customer wants.  Using compromising, you might get your customer to agree to reduce the scope to what is truly needed and your team agrees to work some extended hours to get the work done in three weeks.  Both parties “won” even if there are concessions made on both sides.

Goals are moderately important/not worth the use of a more assertive/involving approaches

Another reason to use the compromising approach would be when the goals are only moderately important and not worth the use of a more assertive or more involved approaches, such as forcing or collaborating.  If the end goal only moderately matters, why go through the effort and cost of the more involved approaches.  Basically look at the cost benefit.  Does it make sense to spend a week negotiating the collaboration approach on a goal that will only take a day or two?

Reach expedient solutions on important issues

Related, maybe you need an expedient solution on a complex issue where again you just do not have the time to do a more elaborate approach.  While providing disadvantages with collaboration, I used an example of when you are managing an e-commerce website and you have a system outage two-hours before your massive online Black Friday sale.  Obviously you need to come up with a quick solution and compromising can provide that for you.

When collaboration or forcing do not work

Also thinking back to the talk about the Collaborating approach, you will remember I wrote about how trust was important for collaborating and it could be used when trust was there.  Well what if trust isn’t there yet?  Compromising is a good approach as first step when the involved parties do not know each other well or have not yet developed a high level of mutual trust.

Long-term relationship is important

Hand in hand with trust is long-term relationships. You cannot have long-term relationships without trust. Collaborating helps continue trust between parties and that is why it is a good approach when the long-term relationship is important.

Need to work through hurt feelings, animosity, etc.

Another time to use collaborating is when you need to work through hard feelings, animosity, etc. Even a group that has worked well with each other for a long time will have some strife. Because collaborating involves focusing on the issues TOGETHER and selecting the best alternative TOGETHER, it is a good approach when there are hard feelings because it will help those involved get away from the feelings and come up with a solution TOGETHER.


So what are the advantages to using the compromising approach?

Faster issue resolution

Generally, compromising will generate a faster resolution to your issue.  Because you are not looking at the root of the issues and doing analysis like you would with collaboration, this approach will produce faster results than some of the other approaches.

Can provide a temporary solution while looking for a win/win solution

Compromising can provide a temporary solution while looking for a win/win solution.  Maybe you have a complicated issue on hand and all parties involved are committed to collaborating to get the best solution, but that takes time and you need something in the meantime.  Compromising can meet your needs in the immediate time-frame.

Lowers the level of tension and stress resulting from the conflict

A third advantage is that compromising lowers the level of tension and stress resulting from the conflict.  Because you can generally come to a compromise pretty quickly – at least compared to some other resolution approaches – this will help reduce the stress around the room.  But this actually plays into my first disadvantage.


Now with anything else, where there are advantages there are disadvantages.  Some of those disadvantages include:

May result in a situation where both parties are not satisfied with the outcome

Using the compromise approach may result in situation when both parties are not satisfied with the outcome.  What you will see from time to time is that the different groups are happy and relieved at first because the situation has been resolved, but then they realize what they gave up – or what they lost as part of the compromise.

Does not contribute to building trust in the long run

Along with that, using the compromise approach does not contribute to building trust in the long run.  Both sides will have tendency to think they give up too much and so trust is not built up as they might think the other side was trying to get the better of them.

May require close monitoring and control

Finally, the compromising approach may require close monitoring and control to ensure the agreements are met.  Since the different sides had to give in, they might not meet all of the conditions of the compromise.  So as the facilitator, you are going to have to keep a close watch on what is going on.

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