A good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied.
~ Larry David
Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.
~ Janis Joplin
Splitting the Resentment
Compromise is held in high esteem by many, especially those in the political realm. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve heard some variation of Larry David’s quote above. The conventional wisdom seems to suggest that compromise is a conflict resolution target to aim for. This may be so in the political arena given the limited range of options available and, at the same time, I’ve found that settling for compromise in our relationships leads to resentment. Why? Well, in a relationship, when we don’t get all that we want in any situation we are likely to blame the other person. The resentment that results can, over time, erode the joyfulness that sustains relationships.
An example: Suppose my wife, Katie, and I each want to use a lemon for a food-related item. There is only one lemon in the house and neither of us are interested in going to get another. Not wanting to get bogged down in a long conversation, a compromise is struck: The lone lemon will be cut in two and shared equally. Both Katie and I end up dissatisfied because, as the story goes, we each failed to state that we had our eye on the whole lemon. I wanted the meat of the lemon for fresh lemonade and Katie wanted the entire rind to flavor her (amazing) lemon bars. The resentment that results paves the path for future problems.
Isn’t there another way? Yes!
Synergy means 1 + 1 = 3
Compassionate Communication provides a more effective alternative to compromise. This alternative asks us to take Janis Joplin’s words to heart by choosing not to settle for any agreement that leaves resentment in its wake. Instead, the process invites us to go more deeply into dialogue to create space for a form of relational magic called synergy. Synergy creates a new, unique solution that leaves everyone satisfied and strengthens the relationship.
Back to our example: Imagine if Katie and I had spent more time talking about why we each wanted the whole lemon rather than moving quickly and settling on compromise. I might have been honest and said that I really wanted all the meat of the lemon to allow me to create two whole glasses of lemonade. Katie could have offered empathy to confirm that she understand what I wanted. Then there would be space for her to speak her truth about her desire for the entire rind for her bars while I replied with empathy to understand her desires.
Once what matters to each party is voiced and understood (a condition known as “connection”), the alchemy of synergy can flow. We would each see that we can both get what we want: I get all the meat and Katie gets all the rind. After our respective projects are done we would settle in, both satisfied with our communication process, for a refreshing treat of lemon bars with lemonade!
Four Steps to Create Synergy in Your Relationships
- Don’t stop at compromise. Honor your relationships by taking time to go deeper into your motivations. Like many actions that build relationships, this may take more time and, at the same time, it will be time well-spent. Realize that compromise will split the resentment 50-50 rather than giving you each all that you want.
- Listen to what matters to the other. Before sharing your perspective, listen to understand what the other person is wanting. Once you understand their perspective, share your own.
- After connecting, let nature take it’s course. Once both of your feel understood by the other, see what arises. In my experience, in this place, nature will provide strategies and solutions that work for both parties.
- Celebrate synergy! To fully honor your choice to embrace synergy and the win-win solutions it fosters, take time to celebrate. Consider how it feels to get all that you want and share it. What we appreciate, appreciates!