Whether you’re trying to compromise with your partner, a family member, or a coworker, the process will look similar. Start by finding out each person’s stance on the issue. Then, work together to come up with different ways you can resolve the issue. It can also help to avoid some common roadblocks that prevent successful compromise, like being disrespectful or focusing on winning. Adopt some practical communication strategies and you’ll find yourself working through disagreements more easily and quickly!
Figuring Out Where You Stand
- Step into the other person’s shoes. Before you begin negotiations, it’s important to know where each person stands on the issue. Try to see things from the other person’s point-of-view by stepping into their shoes. Envision what the experience is like for the other person and what may be driving their actions.
- Let’s say you want to go for a month long vacation during the summer, but your partner prefers to take smaller vacations throughout the year. Take a moment to consider their reasons. Perhaps it's harder for your partner to take the time off work needed for a month-long vacation, or perhaps they’d like to use part of their vacation time to visit family during the winter holidays.
- Listen actively by looking at the person and removing distractions. To better understand where the other person is coming from, you need to listen effectively. When the other person is speaking, really listen to them. If you can, make eye contact with the other person. Don't look at your phone, or fiddle with objects.
- If you lose track of what the other person has said, ask them to repeat it. You can say something like "Sorry, I was just so busy thinking about what you said that I didn't hear the last part. Could you repeat that?"
- Ask open-ended questions. Get a sense of what the other person wants out of the compromise. You can figure out their goals and make them feel heard by asking open-ended questions. Such questions allow the other person to expand on their ideas.
- Ask questions like, "Why do you feel that way about my suggestion?" and "How do you think we can meet in the middle on this issue?"
- Communicate your needs assertively. The other person can’t read your mind, so you have to be willing to state your needs. Asserting your needs includes speaking clearly and succinctly rather than beating around the bush.
- For example, you might tell your best friend, “I feel like we never spend time together anymore. Can we look at our schedules and try to find more time to hang out? I’d appreciate that.”
- Use “I” statements to help you speak about your perspective or feelings assertively without offending someone. For example, you might say, "When I get home from work, I often feel stressed when I see that the kitchen is still messy."
- Be clear about your non-negotiables. There are some aspects of your life that aren’t up for negotiation. They are the issues you absolutely won’t concede on, such as your religion, values, or even sentimental items. Use a calm voice and tact to explain your non-negotiables so that you don't seem rude or offensive.
- If the other person tries to get you to compromise on a non-negotiable, communicate the boundary. Instead of shouting "I told you I'm not working this weekend!," you might say, “I’m afraid I can’t work this weekend. It’s my daughter’s birthday, and I don’t miss my kids' birthdays.”
- Communicate clear boundaries to your boss, friends, and family. Enforcing these boundaries will help you establish what behaviors you will and will not tolerate.
Coming Up with Solutions
- Find common ground. Figure out the points on which you both agree. Doing so helps maintain a sense of cooperation on the issue. It also helps you come to some sort of agreement.
- For example, you might tell your spouse, “We both want to move to an area where the kids can go to great schools. It seems like a low crime rate is most important to you, while diversity is most important to me. How about we look at quality schools in reasonably diverse neighborhoods that have low crime rates?”
- Take turns. Close relationships often involve more collaboration than those between relative strangers. If you’re trying to reach a compromise with your partner, family member, friend or coworker with whom you’re on friendly terms, try the turn-taking approach.
- For example, if you and your spouse can’t agree on which movie to watch, you might take turns and watch them both: one person’s preference goes first and the other person’s follows.
- If you and a coworker are trying to decide who’ll buy lunch, you might say, “I’ll get it this time, but you’ve got next.”
- If it’s equally important (or unimportant) as to who goes first, flip a coin.
- Offer an exchange. See the compromise like a gift swap. Basically, this method works with a “You give me this, and I give you that” mentality. Offer something of relatively equal or desirable value to the other person in exchange for what they give you.
- For instance, if you and your roommate are arguing over who does which chore, you might both decide which is your least favorite chore (e.g., mopping, doing laundry, washing dishes). Then, swap: you do their least favorite chore and they do yours.
- Remember to be flexible in the exchange. Allow the other person to negotiate. Compromise, after all, often requires both parties to give something up or to consider the other's needs.
- Do a trial period. You might have a suggestion as to how something could be done better, but the other person is resistant to jump on board. If this happens, suggest that they try it your way for a short trial. If they don’t like it, you can switch back at the end of the trial.
- Let’s say you read an article that suggests disciplining your children a certain way, but your spouse isn’t convinced. You might say, “How about we give it a try for two weeks? If it works, we’ll keep doing it. If it doesn’t, we’ll try your way. Okay?”
Making the Process Smoother
- Stay solution-focused. Once you’ve figured out where each of you stand, there’s no reason to look back and dwell on the problem itself. Instead, focus on how you can resolve it. This minimizes the opportunity for the discussion to get out of hand and lead to a nasty disagreement.
- If either person starts dwelling on the issue, offer a gentle reminder to focus on the solution. Something to the effect of “Hey, let’s try to focus on solving the problem, okay?” should do the trick.
- Be respectful of the other person. Compromise becomes virtually impossible when you’re angry or aggressive. To make sure your compromise is successful, aim to show respect for the other person and their ideas, even if you don’t agree with them.
- Don't insult them or use words like "stupid” or "useless" to describe their ideas. Denigrating the other person will only make them dig into their views more firmly and hinder your ability to compromise.
- Breathe deeply to get anger or tension under control. Even if it's just for a few minutes, take the time to calm down if you're feeling irritated or tense. Try deep breathing while counting silently to yourself.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose for a count of 4. Hold the breath for 7 counts. Then, exhale slowly to a count of 8. Repeat the cycle until you feel more in control.
- If you can't go off by yourself, try doing a deep breathing exercise whenever the other person is talking. It helps you stay calm and prevents you from interrupting.
- Be realistic. There are good and bad compromises, so make sure what you're requesting of the other person is actually reasonable. Ask yourself some questions about the thing you want the person to compromise on. Is your request feasible for them? Are you asking the other person to change who they are?
- Let’s say you like absolutely everything in your living space to be spotless and in order while your partner functions best with clutter. You might need to consider that you can't share the same space, especially if one of you isn’t willing to alter their expectations.
- Drop the win-lose perspective. Each of you will have to make concessions in a compromise. If you go into the discussion hoping to “win,” your behavior won’t seem approachable or cooperative. Trying to win the disagreement isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that both of you get your individual needs met.
- Don't look at it from a win-lose perspective. Instead, think of the compromise as a positive way for the two of you to come to an agreement.
- Write down the compromise once you agree on it. Writing down the compromise will ensure that you both understand it clearly. This can help prevent misunderstandings or mistakes in the future. You should both keep a copy of the compromise or post it in a place where you can both see it, such as a refrigerator or bulletin board.
- You can even both sign the compromise to show that you agree to its terms.
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