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Expect and Practice: The Art of Compromise in Every Negotiation

- "View Compromise as Co-Promises." - Dispute Resolution Expert Prue Kestner.

- "Learn the wisdom of compromise for it is better two bend a little than to break."

- "Lasting change is a series of compromises." - Jane Goodall

- "A lean compromise is better than a fat lawsuit." George Herbert, British Poet.

- "Be the compromise you want to see in the world."

- "Being in a band is always a compromise. Provided that the balance is good, what you lose in compromise, you gain by collaboration." - Mike Rutherford, co-founded rock band Genesis.

(Note: At least ½ the quotes on compromise per Google revolve around warning against compromising values, the fundamentals or yourself.)* Some research indicates that the art of compromise appears in 20% of negotiations. Effective negotiators know that the art of compromise must be used in all negotiations.

Thomas Kilman Conflict Management Styles Assessment Instrument

Many conflict managers, negotiators and mediators have taken some sort of Conflict Management Instrument. Thomas Kilman's may be the most popular. It outlines five conflict management strategies:

- Avoiding

- Collaborating

- Competing

- Accommodating.

- Compromising.

Many interpret this as stating the best conflict manager is collaborating. Others interpret this differently: An effective conflict manager must be effective at all conflict management strategies.

Some research breaks it down this way:

- 5% the best response is avoiding;

- 10% competing;

- 20% compromising;

- 20% accommodating.

- 40% collaborating.

One can discern situations (conflicts) in which each of these strategies could be the most effective.

- Avoiding: Maybe the situation at that moment may be too emotional. Maybe it is simply not the right time or place. Maybe the right parties are not available. Maybe the conflict is not “ripe.”

- Competing: Maybe “time is of the essence.” A decision needs to be made immediately. A crisis.

- Accommodating: Maybe the issue is mildly important and if one accommodates on this issue, one can be more assertive on another issue.

- Collaborating: Maybe this is a long lasting relationship situation that needs a creative, long lasting agreement. Collaboration often takes time.

- Compromising: Maybe this issue is not that important Maybe the amount is not that significant.

This instrument measures two primary characteristics of a conflict management style: Cooperativeness and Assertiveness.

Imagine a graph in which on the horizontal is “assertiveness” from low on the left to high on the right. On the vertical is “cooperation,” low on the bottom and high at the top.

- Competing is high in assertiveness and low in cooperation.

- Avoiding is low in assertiveness and low in cooperation.

- Accommodating is unassertive and cooperative.

- Collaborating is high in assertiveness AND cooperation.

- Compromising is moderate in both assertiveness and cooperation.

Definition of Compromise according to the Thomas-Kilman Instrument:

“Compromising is moderate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. The objective is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. It falls intermediate between competing and accommodating. Compromising gives up more than competing but less than accommodating. Likewise, it addresses an issue more directly than avoiding, but does not explore it in as much depth as collaborating. In some situations, compromising might mean splitting the difference between the two positions, exchanging concessions, or seeking a quick middle-ground solution.”

A Better Approach to Using This Instrument

“The TKI® is a an assessment that determines how you tend to respond to conflict (when your needs differ from those of another person), and what other conflict-handling options are available to you. It takes about 20 minutes to complete and there are no right or wrong answers!”

In most cases, folks are asked to take the test by responding to approximately 30 questions and then completing the graph that indicates the prevalent conflict management style.

A better approach is not to think of this as an overall style, but instead issue-oriented. So, one might apply all of these styles to each issue and then choose which approach is best for each issue.

A Case Example-Issue by Issue

The University of Missouri School of Law Professor Len Riskin has created a case study: The Mason-Dixon Jar Case aka The Carton Case. This case is used in many law school negotiation and mediation courses. The Buyer produces glass jars and needs shipping cartons. Their existing carton supplier has gone bankrupt. The Seller sells cartons and desires a national reputation.

There are 3 issues:

-Short term contract;

-Long term contract; and

-Dispute Resolution contractual clause.

Short Term Contract: The Buyer (B) is in a crisis and needs cartons immediately. B may decide to use the Competing approach in order to secure an immediate short term contract. Within this approach, the B may easily compromise on many contractual provisions such as the length of the contract (maybe 30 days, 60 days or 90 days). Out of desperation, B may also compromise on the price, paying much more than what they usually pay.

Long Term Contract: In this case, B has more time and may choose the collaborative approach in light of the potential of a long-term relationship. At the same time, B may compromise on many of the provisions to reach an agreement.

Dispute Resolution Contractual Provision: B may view this issue as a third priority and may choose the compromising approach. Maybe, they include negotiation and/or mediation and/or arbitration. The arbitration may be binding or nonbinding. Naming the dispute resolution provider may also be a compromise.

Summary: As one can see the Art of Compromise can be used in all three issues outlined above, even when the overall conflict management style may be different.

Dealing with Conflict Instrument, HRD Press

This instrument is very similar to the TK described above. One answers 15 questions and it catalogs the style using the same categories outlined above.

This approach describes Compromise as “We Both Win, We Both Lose.”

“In the compromising style, you resolve the conflict quickly and efficiently by seeking a fair and equitable split between your positions. When you compromise, each side concedes some of their issues in order to resolve others…True compromising involves honesty and reasonableness.”

Conflict Strategies Inventory

This inventory sets forth ten situations with five potential responses. Based on the responses, the participant is once again cataloged into the same five conflict styles outlined above.

Compromising is defined as “each party gains something but also gives up something.”

“If you strongly prefer Compromising, you may feel that every issue has room for negotiation. You might have a tendency to overstate your goals in a conflict situation so that you will have something to concede.”

Compromising is appropriate when parties to a conflict are having difficulty moving forward. “If each side gains a little, it may be enough to keep the parties involved in conflict resolution.”

101 Secrets of Negotiation Success by Elaine Re

This is a great book printed by AMACON. Of the 101 so called "secrets,” several are devoted to the art of compromise:

Secret #3: Every negotiation involves concessions-or the appearance of compromise. “You should never give up anything without getting something in return.”

Secret #55: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Making concessions is a process of “give and take.” “Your goal is to get what you need out of the negotiation.”

Secret #56: It’s okay to make the first concession. Giving concessions is about moving the negotiation forward. Do not waste time doing the dance of who makes the first concession. Make concessions strategically.

Secret #57: Never concede during the Resistance Stage. The Resistance Stage is the time when parties are identifying the issues. This is too early to concede.

Secret #58: Never concede under pressure. For effective negotiators, they have planned for making concessions. Sometimes the pressure of the negotiation process may lure you to giving up more than you should.

Secret #59: The best concessions to make. Concessions are about compromising. Consider patience and active listening to be no cost concessions. Ask questions to discern what concessions might impress them.

Compromise Negotiation – 1 of 6 Styles, Author Brian Tracy (AMACOM)

In his book Negotiation, Tracy outlines six negotiation styles. Embedded is the assumption that one would negotiate the entire negotiation in this fashion. An effective negotiator realizes that they may use all six styles during a single negotiation. Most likely during every negotiation, there is some time for negotiating in a compromising fashion. Much like the above conflict management styles, an effective negotiator is adept at all styles.

Give and Take by Adam Grant

This is an excellent book where Grant seeks to prove economically why compromise and giving and taking becomes the wise choice. He claims the most successful negotiators are those who are equally concerned about the interests of others and the interests of oneself.

Compromise is a Sign of Weakness

There is a strong minority who view compromise negatively. Often in the media and elsewhere, one hears:

- I will not compromise my values.

- Compromise is a sign of a weak case.

- Some things are non-negotiable:no compromise.

As noted in the introduction, half of the quotes listed on Google about compromise are of a negative, warning variety.

Effective negotiators will recognize that the above statements and approaches are impractical and unrealistic. These views are often held by negotiators who have a competitive, take-no-prisoners approach. It is clear from negotiation research such as Adam Grant’s above, that in the long run, this competitive approach does not work. It may work in the short term and for situations where there is not a relationship.

Negotiation Mood

Effective negotiators know that if the parties are in “the negotiation mood” almost anything can be negotiated. What is the negotiation mood? It means that the overall goal of the parties is to craft a resolution that not only meets all of the goals but maybe exceeds them.

What are the characteristics of “the negotiation mood?” Negotiators are willing to:

- Identify facts and seek agreement of all parties;

- Listen to all perspectives (opinions) as distinguishable from facts;

- Discern all of the issues;

- Distinguish between positions and interests;

- Emphasize interests to open the door to creativity;

- Be creative putting forth a variety of options to meet the interests;

- Expect give and take, and

- Secure an agreement that is at least satisfactory to all parties.

If negotiators are in the “negotiation mood” they can identify and take advantage of opportunities.

Compromise Mindset

Authors and Distinguished Professors Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson excellently use the term, “Compromise Mindset.”

First, the negotiators need to appreciate the value of compromise.

Value of Compromise

Compromise is a way to move forward. It is a recognition that there are conflicting values and to make progress, each party needs to participate in the give and take, especially in negotiation. Sometimes it is helpful to reframe “principles” into “interests” which leads to more potential for negotiation.

Characteristics of the Compromise Mindset

As stated above, negotiators need to be able to move beyond the intractable positions or principles and move to interests.

The negotiators need to assume mutual respect of all of the parties. Mutual respect translates into trust, honesty, and being open. This is a big lift for many negotiators since many negotiators have their own perspective on respect:

- One must earn respect.

- Respect is based on honest behavior.

Instead, it might be valuable for each negotiator to assume mutual respect. In this way, they recognize toleration. They discern the ability to be educated, to adapt, and to anticipate new information and perspective.

Characteristics of the Uncompromising Mindset:

As one can imagine, these are the opposite of the above. These negotiators fixate on positions and principles. They mistrust their fellow negotiators. All of this gets in the way of opportunities and change.

Bad Faith is another characteristic of an uncompromising Mindset.

Some might wonder how one can discern “bad faith.” First, based on research, one can depend on approximately 5% of the folks with whom one deals ,not wanting to settle even though they may not state such. To understand those who don’t want to settle, an effective negotiator puts themselves in the shoes of the other negotiator. What are they getting out of “non-settlement.” Also, some folks thrive on conflict and chaos.

Second, an effective negotiation looks for bad and good faith from the very beginning of the negotiation, which means starting with the Planning Stage. Often during this stage there is an exchange of information, of documents, of email messages, of phone calls. Is this happening on a mutual basis?

Next, examine the negotiator’s behavior during the Introductory Stage. In this stage, ground rules or guidelines for the negotiation are created. Are all of the negotiators participatory?

Next, it is a great idea for all parties to state their overall goals during this stage. Are the negotiators doing so? If so, one can hold the negotiators to their goal statements.


A wise negotiator or problem-solver realizes that compromise is an art. They realize that compromising is involved in all effective negotiations. For an excellent negotiation, all parties need to be in the negotiation mood or “Compromising Mindset.”

*It is noteworthy that “Compromise” is not listed in the index of,

-The Leader in You Dale Carnegie

-Influence-Science and Practice Robert B. Cialdini

-Legal Negotiation In a Nutshell, Larry L. Teply

-Results Without Authority, Controlling a Project When the Team Doesn’t Report to You, Tom Kendrick.

-The Secret Language of Influence-Master the One Skill Every Sales Pro Needs Dan Seidman

-Persuasion Equation-The Subtle Science of Getting Your Way, Mark Rodgers

-The 11 Laws of Likability, Michelle Tillis Lederman, AMACOM

Blog Entry Accompanying Notes:

Note 1: From the blog entry of Attorney Lucas Van de Sande, July, 2020

As a general rule, we should all strive to resolve conflict – no matter the type – in the most reasonable and practical way possible. Yet for better and for worse, we like a good fight. We relish assigning the roles of “good” and “bad” actors and romanticizing the notion of “good guys” defeating “bad guys” to achieve “justice.” We love the notion of labeling “winners” and “losers” in virtually every transaction.

However, would it not be more efficient and far more beneficial to shift our outlook vis –a-vis conflict to a more practical approach? I.E. identifying precise issues, and then working towards achieving reasonable solutions as quickly, completely, economically, and morally as possible, while minimizing mental anguish and anxiety. This sort of a framework often involves levels of compromise - an idea which for many in an increasingly litigious world somehow became unfairly stigmatized and seen as akin to weakness.

Note 2: Relevant quotes from Bill Straubinger, Director of Results For Change, and Author of The Essential Problem Solver. Bill Straubinger helps organizations by giving their employees the tools to make better decisions, solve problems, and improve their results. His background includes more than twenty years of senior management experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The best leaders have an appreciation for people’s differences - Robert Rosen

Real dialogue is where two or more people become willing to suspend their certainty in each other’s presence - David Bohm

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. Marcel Proust

Preconceived notions govern responses unless you work to change them.

My way toward the truth is to ask the right questions — Socrates

Note 3: Comments from Columbus, Ohio, Attorney Terry Wheeler.

Larry, Interesting observation that many Persuasion books do not have “compromise” in their indexes. “My first thought on Compromise is that people who write books from a competitive position would consider compromise to be a dirty word.

When I talk about compromise I talk about the difference between compromise being the process and compromise being the outcome. For example if I have a dispute and I quickly compromise then there’s not much effort or strategy put into it maybe other than say splitting the difference. In that case compromise is simply a quick fix to end the conflict and move on.

However if I have attempted to either engage in positional or interest-based negotiation and I’m not able to obtain as much as I want then considering other factors I might end up with a compromise outcome even though that’s not the process I used to get there.”


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