Compromise: Informed, Intentional and Productive

by  Jane Perdue  |  Leadership Development

I didn’t get the memo. Did you? You know, the one that says compromise is negative and should be avoided?

Somewhere along the line, compromise (defined by Merriam-Webster as a settlement of differences by consent reached through mutual concessions, one of those “playing well in the sandbox” skills my mom taught me) got confused with capitulation or collusion in which you’re viewed as a sell-out or a weakling.

Another thing my mom taught me was to know what’s illegal, immoral and unethical. Not compromising one’s values and beliefs there makes perfect sense, yet many of the situations we face every day don’t reach that status. Expecting to get one’s way all the time, on everything especially on things that aren’t illegal, immoral and/or illegal, is a recipe for gridlock and an unhappy life. Aren’t most things about give-and-take? Isn’t life richer that way?

So the next time you’re faced with a situation in which it’s obvious you aren’t the sole decision-maker and you feel your spine getting stiff, and you start to dig your feet in, stop and reflect on what real compromise is.

Sharing in both the process and the result. Compromise isn’t about domination and/or submission. It’s about an informed and intentional process in which two parties put everything on the table, have a frank dialogue, and jointly discover and/or create a solution that serves the best interests of both.  He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious. ~Sun Tzu

Being flexible on what’s a “must have” versus what’s nice to have. I once had an employee who went to the mat on using Times New Roman font in a training manual when the rest of the project team preferred Arial!  Being willing to collaborate with others, to play in their sandbox and they in yours, usually results in a richer outcome than one could have produced on their own. Plus there’s an added benefit of broadening your horizons based on learning from others. Every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter. ~Edmund Burke

Willingness to think in broader terms of “we” and “others” rather than  just “me” or “I.” Most of us bring distinct ideas of how we want things to be. Yet it’s important to be able to distinguish between “mission critical” components where’s little to no wiggle room and those items on which there’s space to flex.  As CIO Magazine writes, A project manager who is willing step back from the team and allow others to add their ideas, as well as their labor, to make the project come along may sacrifice her own pet ideas for the good of the whole. That is compromise of the highest order. And it is also known by another name – leadership.


What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By jane-perdue
Jane is a leadership futurist and well-mannered maverick who challenges stereotypes, sacred cows, gender bias & how we think about power. She loves chocolate, TED, writing, kindness, paradox and shoes.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Deborah Costello  |  01 Aug 2011  |  Reply


Maybe our current political leaders need to read this post and take a lesson or two from you. Somehow compromise is a dirty word and cooperation is the work of traitors. Going to the mat over everything leaves us all angry, unproductive, and frustrated. I would love to see more of this at every level of leadership. Well said!

Jane Perdue  |  01 Aug 2011  |  Reply

Deb –

How I would love to coach the folks in DC…the whole lead change group could pass along such wisdom – perhaps someday. As always, so appreciate your kind words and insights that enrich the dialogue.

With a smile,


Tristan Bishop  |  02 Aug 2011  |  Reply

Thank you Jane!

Very timely and effective. I often say, “Wise warriors wait for the battles that matter.”

Appreciate the reminder in age of debilitating gridlock.


Jane Perdue  |  02 Aug 2011  |  Reply

Tristan – love your wise counsel and kinds words…thanks much!

Join The Conversation