Conflict Resolution, Part 4:

Learning the Art of Compromise

We’ve covered the extremes in this series.

Avoiding conflict, accommodating the other person’s needs and dominating the conflict all have their place but aren’t usually the best route in problem-solving. They result in negative feelings and unresolved issues. Our primary focus has been on improving how you fight for your marriage.

Today we are going to bust some myths about the Compromising style of conflict resolution. But Before we jump in, let’s take a refresher in conflict styles.

What Is a Fighting style?

In brief, a fighting style is the way you choose to deal with conflicting ideas, arguments, or disagreements. Anyone at any time can use any of the styles. Since they are learned behaviors, many people only use one or two in their life.

How Are These Categorized?

We are using the TKI model I covered in detail in the first part of this series to examine each of these. This tool measures a person’s assertiveness against their cooperativeness, resulting in five unique styles. Take a look at week 1 for more details.

Compromise: The Fourth of the Five Styles

Where It Lands on the Scale:

It is the idea that no one gets everything they want, but everyone at least gets something. Compromise has long been touted as the best way to resolve conflict, so it is natural that many people are chronic compromisers. After all, it’s a learned behavior, right?

It also:

  • Lands right in the middle of the spectrum
  • Is moderately assertive
  • Moderately cooperative
  • Not entirely effective

Characteristics of Compromisers:

Effective compromisers get the most but give the least – like a good car negotiation. Compromisers mistake resolution as a bartering system. “I’ll give you some of my ice cream if I can have some of your cake.” Compromising, at least to them, is a simple give and take. It’s an easy way to “fix” a problem.

Compromisers “agree to disagree” often, since they neither work get everything they want, nor give the other person everything they want. It typically ends in a standstill.

They’re logical thinkers, unlike accommodating fighters who are more emotionally invested in an argument. This article explains that the inclination to compromise is related to personality types (remember taking all those Meyers-Briggs tests in school?) and which personality types are most likely to compromise.

A person suggests a compromise when he or she recognizes that the issue is equally important to both involved and that neither is willing to back down entirely.

Effects of Compromising:

Compromising never fully resolves an issue. It is a win-lose solution for both people. Each party has to give something up to gain something. In simple scenarios like choosing a place to eat, compromising has little effect on the overall health of a relationship. When the issue is more serious, like when making financial decisions, child rearing, etc. compromising can result in negative outcomes.

Failure to fully resolve an issue leads to the development of pent up, resentful and dissatisfied feelings. Sometimes one feels duped by the end result, having given too much for what they received.

Misconceptions of Compromising:

As children, we are taught that compromising is a socially acceptable way to solve our problems. It’s now an accepted part of acceptable societal behavior. Unfortunately, there are more than a few flaws in compromise strategies.

Conflict Resolution-Right SizeThe most obvious myth about compromising is that it makes everyone happy. This just isn’t true. Compromise very rarely makes anyone happy.

Think about buying a new car. In an ideal world, you buy a brand new car fresh off the showroom floor fully loaded with more gizmos than apps on your iPhone without selling one of your kidneys on the black market.

The dealership’s ideal situation, however, involves you paying list price for the vehicle.

After hours of massive haggling, they begrudgingly come down on the price. But they also tell you they don’t have the fully loaded model, just the basic one. Having spent an entire day getting whittled down, you reluctantly agree to drive away in less than what you wanted.

Did anyone end up truly, 100% happy? Not so much.

Also notable is the idea that everyone makes out equally. Again, this is false. Since compromise is the illicit love child of the accommodating and competing styles, there is still a level of competition. You are still trying to get the more in the argument than the other person. As a rule, the more savvy, stamina-filled, negotiator walks out with the bounty.

“Compromise serves the greater good.” This misconception has some truth behind it. Meeting in the middle does help everyone involved get a little of what they want.

Think of having a friend who lives across town. You want to get together for dinner, but you don’t want to drive all the way out to her house. Likewise, she doesn’t feel apt at killing off part of her gas tank to get to your place. The easiest thing to do is meet at a mid-point.

Compromise can undermine values as well. Perhaps you and your partner have differing views on child rearing, you are religious, they are not. To meet in the middle for the “greater good,” one of you is compromising your beliefs. Pun fully intended.

The last misconception we are addressing this week stems from our childhood: Compromising is the best way to solve problems. Well, if Elmo said it, it must be true!

Because no one ever gets what they want (see above), compromise is disqualified as the best way to resolve your conflicts. It’s true that compromising is less time-consuming and generally easier, but it’s not the best solution.

What is, you may ask? Well, you’ll have to wait for next week to find out.

When to Use the Compromising Style

Is the Compromising style ever an effective tool?

In short, yes there are plenty of times to use compromise! We’ve already mentioned that minor things like dinner plans, choosing an activity, or meeting up are up for compromise. Even car buying is a good time to negotiate.

But what about in your marriage? Here are some things to consider before you compromise what you want:

  • Are your being reasonable in your request?
  • Have all of your differences been recognized?
  • Do you have the time to fully hash out the details? (If not, then settle on a reasonable compromise)
  • Will compromising cause more issues for you later?


Now that everything you’ve ever been taught about compromise has been challenged let’s recap.

The give and take can lead to dissatisfied feelings or resent. Fret not! It is totally acceptable to use this style to solve minor issues without much consequence. Remember that there is a time and a place for every style, even compromise, so be wise in choosing which style you want to use.

Review the importance of the issue for you and your partner, then decide your course of action.
Compromise is not the best way to solve problems, but we’ll go over that next week.

So how did we do? Do you like to compromise? Or does it feel like one giant waste of your time? Let us know in the comments!

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