To Compromise or not to Compromise?

I’ve always been taught that compromise, or meeting in the middle, is the ideal, optimal outcome in a negotiation or really in any disagreement.

However, is compromise really the best outcome in all situations?

This passage on compromise from Never Split The Difference got me thinking:

To make my point on compromise, let me paint you an example: A woman wants her husband to wear black shoes with his suit. But her husband doesn’t want to; he prefers brown shoes. So what do they do? They compromise, they meet halfway. And, you guessed it, he wears one black and one brown shoe. Is this the best outcome? No! In fact, that’s the worst possible outcome. Either of the two other outcomes—black or brown—would be better than the compromise. Next time you want to compromise, remind yourself of those mismatched shoes.

I like the image of mismatched shoes to remind one that in some circumstances, compromise is definitely not the best possible outcome.

But I’ll have to think about this more as to whether or not there are certain circumstances where compromise is the best possible outcome. In other words, what I want to observe more in my day to day life + evaluate is: is every negotiation or disagreement one that can be boiled down to brown shoes vs black shoes? Or in some cases is it “black shoes, but which type of black shoes?” However even from here, the example can be applied again, where the worst possible outcome would be wearing one of each of the black shoes… So I guess what I’m looking for are examples of scenarios where there is a continuous range of outcomes vs a discrete set of outcomes.

For now, the brown shoe vs black shoe example is a great reminder that if there is a binary set of outcomes, compromise might leave me with mismatched shoes.

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