For years I would not use the word “compromise” when talking about how to reach agreements. I held to the common idea that a compromise is an agreement where each party goes away unhappy, feeling they gave away too much or received too little. In other words, compromise meant both parties lost.

Over time, however, I have learned that a smart compromise might forfeit a favored solution without sacrificing the underlying values. To compromise is to make a deal between different parties where each party gives up part of what they wanted, but still gets what they need. a large concession from the less interested/invested one.cession from the

Successful compromise requires flexibility and clarity by both sides about which things are most important to them. Take time to prioritize needs; get very clear about what can be let go and what needs to be kept. Unless both parties do this well, the agreement won’t last: resentment will build and the conflict will resurface.

Compromise becomes necessary when ideals meet reality – once we get down to the specifics, trade-offs must be made, often involving limits of time & money. No one gets everything they want; everyone has to give up something. The key to a lasting solution is to give up the things that are least important to you, and to include the things most important to the other party.

Compromise requires communication and negotiation. Parties share their solutions and participate in a process of give and take until each can live with the resulting solution. Complicated or emotionally fraught issues usually require a series of these conversations during which everyone clarifies what is most important to them. Invariably, this process involves learning more about each party’s values, and often requires that each “side” lets go of their least important positions while discovering new solutions that meet their needs as well, or better than, any of the original solutions.

Compromise often involves changing perspective on a problem. Using the example of the long-running conflict over the Ellensburg middle school, when the issue was discussed only on the level of solutions, the choices were limited to the mutually exclusive options of building a new school or fixing the old one. Emotions ran high. One side had to win, the other had to lose.

Viewed from the perspective of the underlying values, however, a blend became possible; portions of one solution could be combined with portions of another to craft something that would work. This new solution could be tweaked to take into account the realities of the situation; including what taxpayers were willing to pay, the disposition of the current Morgan building, and the need to win the support of at least 60% of voters in the district. Also, issues concerning the student curricular needs for performing arts, classroom size and configuration, State requirements, safety considerations, and parking had to be considered as well.

The key to creating a lasting and livable compromise is understanding the difference between being wedded to a given solution (“my way or the highway”) and each party knowing and standing up for their values. At the level of values, there is always much more compatibility between parties than one would expect from the warring positions. In the middle school example, some of the shared values behind each of the initial positions were the importance of a good education and an affordable cost for taxpayers. Once these compatible interests were discovered, it was possible to dream-up new solutions that met all of the deeply important values of all parties.

Compromise doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Yes, we have to give up our ideal solution, but we don’t have to give up things that are deeply important to us.