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Blog Short #102: Negotiation Works Better Than Compromise

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What do you think when you hear the word “compromise?” Do you think you’re going to get something or give something up? I think most of us believe we’re going to give something up.

Even the word “compromise” has a negative vibe because it means caving in some way or another, and it assumes a competitive relationship between you and the other person.

“I want this, and you want that. How much will I have to give up to settle the issue?”

That’s the question. And there’s always the fear that you might have to give up everything to avoid escalating the conflict.

A better approach, especially when it comes to personal relationships, is to use negotiation.

Today I’ll explain the difference between compromise and negotiation and give you some strategies that facilitate successful negotiation.

Differences Between Compromise and Negotiation


Compromise starts with a problem between opposing sides.

Imagine two people standing on either side of a line, with their wants and needs stacked up on their side. They begin moving toward the middle, with each person making concessions to get to a point where there’s agreement. They chisel away at their wants and needs to make things work. That doesn’t necessarily mean either of them gets something they want.

For example, if one of you loves to go out for dinner and the other likes to stay in and cook together, you might compromise by ordering out, which doesn’t really satisfy either one of you. Yes, you get restaurant food, and you stay in, but you both lose the experience you each wanted. In this case, you have a lose-lose situation.

In the above example, two people cater equally to solve a problem. But compromise doesn’t always work this way. If one person is more dominant than the other, and the other is conflict-avoidant, you end up with one person getting what they want and the other accommodating them to avoid a fight. In this case, you get a win-lose.


Negotiation is based on equal consideration of each person’s wants and needs.

You start on the same side of the line and tackle the issue together. You work as a team to redefine the problem in terms of each other’s needs and then decide how to meet them, so you each get something. When done successfully, the outcome is win-win.

Using our example above about whether to go out to eat or stay in and cook, the solution would be to eat out one weekend and stay in the next. That way, you both get what you want.

Negotiation is a proactive process, whereas compromise is passive. With negotiation, you acknowledge issues willingly and work as a team to solve them. The approach is collaborative. Each person has equal power and asserts their ideas and desires while the other listens with respect and interest. No one needs to guard their territory or give it up.

With compromise, there’s a reluctance to dive in. The power base is often unequal, and you operate with the mindset, “What am I going to have to give up?”

Negotiation leaves each person satisfied, while compromise can lead to resentment and a resurfacing of issues because they’re never really resolved.

So you might ask,

“Aren’t we just talking semantics here? Isn’t negotiation actually compromise?”

Yes and no. It is compromise in the sense that there’s a problem and a solution both people agree to, but the difference is that negotiation maintains the power balance and focuses on each person getting something, not giving up something.

The process is positive because you start with the mindset that you’ll be happy with the outcome. You don’t approach with wariness and fear that you won’t be heard or considered.

Let’s outline the benefits quickly, and then I’ll give you some strategies that make it work.

Benefits of Negotiation

  • Both people get their needs met.
  • You get something you want in exchange for something the other person wants.
  • You each get to verbalize what you need and know you will be heard and respected.
  • The power base is equal.
  • You find satisfaction in satisfying each other’s wants, which bodes well for the health and longevity of the relationship.
  • Each feels that the solution(s) is fair and was arrived at as a team. You feel good about working together.
  • True negotiation solves issues, so they don’t keep coming back up.
  • Negotiation enhances the connection between you and the other person.

Strategies for Negotiation

For negotiation to go smoothly, it is necessary to follow basic guidelines for communication. If you don’t, you might sabotage the process. Remember that negotiation is a collaboration. For best results:

  1. Voice your ideas, opinions, beliefs, wants, and needs directly and clearly.
  2. Focus on behaviors instead of personal characterizations.
  3. Let each person have their say without interruption.
  4. Ask questions to clarify and uncover any additional needs not spoken. For example, someone may want to spend an evening in just talking without the TV running in the background. Further probing might reveal that the underlying need is to have more quality time together. Knowing that opens the door for more discussion and possible solutions. Ask both “what” and “why.”
  5. Avoid criticism, contempt, or sarcasm. All of these will close down the conversation quickly.
  6. Keep an open mind which means accepting that the other person has ideas that may differ from yours but should be honored just the same. Try to see it through their lens, even when you disagree.
  7. Don’t censor ideas. The more you know, the more creatively you can come up with solutions. You can have wildly opposing views and still come up with solutions that give both of you something you want.
  8. Stay connected while talking. See yourselves as a problem-solving team, not opponents.

What if the issue is more complex?

Complex issues like where to live, whether to buy a house or keep renting, or how to parent require continued negotiation.

In cases like these, it’s good to break down the issue into parts and work a little at a time. You might need to do research or get more information. You can both do that and come back together as often as necessary to share what you’ve learned and see how it sits with you.

What’s most important in these cases is to:

  • Keep the power base equal, which means maintaining respect and consideration for each other’s ideas and points of view.
  • Be forthcoming in expressing your thoughts and feelings. Don’t withhold information out of fear or resentment. Honesty breeds trust and trust is necessary for collaboration.
  • Agree to work on a complex problem over time. It’s easy to get antsy about resolving something because no one likes to be in limbo, but hurrying a solution without allowing the time necessary for emotional reactions to settle is a mistake and often comes back to bite you.

Relationships flourish when you learn how to resolve conflicts equitably. All problems can be solved and done in a way that leaves both parties with a win.

If you practice negotiation with the strategies we’ve outlined, you’ll be successful and improve your relationships simultaneously.

Keep these words in mind, and you’ll succeed:

Collaborate, equal say, respect, teamwork, win-win

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,


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