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Lessons Learned – Mistakes Repeated Vol. 3 There is Too Much Compromise in Business

Often in the hectic world of Project Management the quick compromise fits the bill. It’s quick, efficient and gets the job done. But is it the best solution?

Every Project closure needs a time for lessons learned. Alas I am not the only one who sees the same mistakes repeated far too often.

One of the most oft repeated mistakes I see in negotiation and conflict management is the over use of compromise. It is almost accepted practice to split the difference and move on. People think the correct answer is half way between the two positions.

It is not.

If an agreement is made and the parties can smile afterwards some think this is a win-win.

It is not.

Compromise is really a competitive negotiation because it is based on positions not the underlying interests. 

Whether it is a Project Management timeline, Government shut down or Middle East peace negotiations, a collaborative process is essential to having a true win-win outcome. Quick and efficient is not the same as a solution that truly satisfies the needs and interests of both parties. Not damaging the relationship of the two parties in a negotiation is not the same as building trust and engaging in a collaborative negotiation methodology.

Let me be clear that compromise is sometimes the ‘right’ negotiation strategy. I would suggest when there is a need for a quick solution and the issue is not vitally important to either party a compromise may well solve the problem without damaging the relationship. But it is not the same as a win-win and it is not collaborative. That is, it is not true problem solving –its competitive negotiation. 

My experience as a member of a Middle East citizen diplomacy mission to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza taught me that when the issue is vitally important to both sides collaborative negotiation is the only way to resolve the conflict.

At the root of collaborative negotiation is the concept of the difference between positions and interests. What the parties say they need (position) as opposed to what the parties really want and why they want it (interests). 

Let me explain by a simple example of a bedtime conflict with my daughter Kristen, who upon reaching the lofty age of 10 demanded that her bedtime be 10 o’clock whilst I was firm that the bedtime should be 9:30. 

All of you parents will know the predictable path that the discussion took. “You need your sleep”; “I get up in the morning so I don’t need that much sleep”; “Mary’s bedtime is 10 o’clock” and on and on and on.

I was about to give in or compromise because I was tired of arguing when I got one of these ‘Father knows best ‘ moments. 

I said to Kristen “why is it so important that your bedtime be 10’oclock”? Kristen paused for a moment. You could see the wheels turning in her head. Probably thinking “what is Dad trying to do, I bet it’s a trick”. 

Finally she said, “There is a TV show on at 9:30 and the kids at school always talk about it a recess”. Immediately I knew that what Kristen really wanted was to be part of the group at school ant the bedtime change the solution to her problem.

Then as all future parents should know; no matter what you do for kids they one day turn on you! Kristen looked at me and said “And why is it so important to you”.

I thought about it for a minute – It was important to me as a single parent with two kids and full time job to have some quiet time at the end of the day to relax and unwind. 

So as my astute daughter so cleverly revealed the disagreement was not really about 9:30 – 10:00 o’clock where there is one winner and one loser.

We could assume that the likely outcome is the compromise of 9:45p.m. which leaves everyone a loser. But really when we look at the underlying interests we move from arguing about positions to solving a problem.

The problem is how do we let Kristen be a part of the group at school and at the same time give Dad his quiet time? This is a problem to be solved and not positions (9:30-10:00 o’clock) to be argued. If we look at it as a problem to be solved by both of us working together we will be much more successful. Effectively Kristen and I are on the same side of the table.

We didn’t solve the problem right away but I left that interaction with a far different view of the problem.

In mission critical projects can we afford a 9:45 solution? And why is it so hard to get a collaborative solution where both parties win? 

Number one, we don’t try –we often go for the quick and expedient rather than the best solution.

Some believe it takes too long for a collaborative solution. The Government shut down in the U.S. and the National baseball strike, suggest that on the contrary, a competitive negotiation takes far more time and takes a toll on the relationship between the parties. Often everyone ends up a loser and the relationship is harmed in the process. Trust is lost and communication is difficult.

Eventually Kristen and I worked out a collaborative solution to our problem. This was the deal – we would watch the TV show together and on the commercials Kristen would put on her pajamas, brush her teeth etc. That is the labour intensive part of putting a child to bed. So I was relieved of that tiring burden and the coaxing / nagging that goes with it. 

On the other hand Kristen got to watch the TV show, we both got cuddle time and our relationship was not harmed. In fact the relationship was enhanced through the honest communication and a norm for settling parent – child disputes put in place.

One could argue that I got more than I would have got if I had prevailed at a 9:30 bedtime as I would still have had to go through the tiring –“brush your teeth, get your pajamas on” process.

And likewise Kristen got more than she would have got had she pursued a competitive negotiation and a 10 o’clock bedtime – getting some cuddle time with dad, avoiding the go to bed angst, getting to watch her TV show and being able to be part of the gang at recess!

This is the win-win. 

p.s. I have a YouTube video recounting of the story above. 

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