Compromise-A Four Letter Word
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 0:10
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we uncover what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. Marsha, welcome back.
Marsha Clark 0:22
Thank you. Thank you.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 0:23
Yes, today is a big day as we're exploring the fifth of our six part series on Managing Conflict and Enriching Relationships. And we deliberately saved "compromise" for the last of the five conflict episodes, right?
Marsha Clark 0:40
We did. And for a specific reason. Compromise as a response mode falls at the center of the Thomas and Killman conflict model, the one that we've used as the basis for talking about conflict, and it lands right in the middle of the two axes of assertiveness and cooperativeness. And it reflects a desire to balance the needs of building or maintaining relationships with the goal of achieving results similar to collaboration, but it's kind of the middle of the model.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 1:15
Okay, and that brings up a good point. How is this different from collaboration? I mean, isn't compromise kind of about trying to find that win-win in a situation as well?
Marsha Clark 1:27
Well, it's a great question, Wendi, because they do appear to have the same end goal and that involves meeting the needs of both or all parties that are involved. And there's a significant difference and it's to what degree does the solution meet the needs of everyone? So it's about degree. So with collaboration the parties involved are focused on creating a solution that meets 100% of the needs, or as close as possible, of everyone involved. And in order to create that type of solution, there's going to likely need to be lots of creativity and synergy. And the collaboration approach tends to lead to innovative approaches to problems that previously appeared to have a fixed or finite solution.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 2:13
Okay, maybe it'd be better if we get into a specific example of the difference.
Marsha Clark 2:17
Sure, sure. So I'm going to use the tried and true analogy of a pie, right. And as a quick refresher, we'll use this pie really to review all the different approaches since we're, you know, towards the end of our six part series.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 2:31
Of course, and who doesn't like pie?
Marsha Clark 2:35
Just wait, because that will come up in some of the examples. So for all of our listeners, if you think of the pie, you know, the circle of the pie, a whole complete pie. And for now, think of your favorite flavor of pie. Got it?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 2:47
Marsha Clark 2:48
So Wendi, what are you thinking of?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 2:49
Strawberry rhubarb with a dollop of Ben and Jerry's vanilla.
Marsha Clark 2:53
Oh, very specific!
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 2:56
Gotta get the ala mode.
Marsha Clark 2:58
Okay, okay. Mine is coconut cream.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 3:02
That's a good one. I take my answer back.
Marsha Clark 3:04
That's my favorite. So you and I both like pie, obviously. And we've been told by our pie resource team, get it? (Yes) that there's only one pie available right now with no more pie showing up on the horizon. So now we have to decide how to split the pie.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 3:23
Okay. I'm following that.
Marsha Clark 3:25
Alright, so based on what we've already learned about the other conflict response modes, if I'm in compete mode, how am I splitting the pie?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 3:33
Well, I'm taking the pie and running out of the room. That's what I'm splitting. I'm splitting out of the room!
Marsha Clark 3:40
There you go. That's very good, very good. So for whatever reason, whether it's because you were told by your boss or your customers and they expect you to bring back every bite of pie available. Or maybe you remember that making concessions on another pie, you know, other pie distributions before and you're expecting that it's your turn to get all the pie. So that's that competing way of thinking about the pie. And so if we go to the next response mode, if my preferred is accommodating, what am I doing with the pie?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 4:12
I'm trying to cut it in half. I mean, I think you're definitely doing the opposite. You're offering up servings to whoever you're trying to build or maintain the relationship with.
Marsha Clark 4:21
That's right. My pie is your pie. So I'm gonna basically give you whatever part of that pie you choose to, you want.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 4:29
Yes, be my guest and have all of my slices.
Marsha Clark 4:33
It would be my pleasure, if you remember that. So what is the avoider doing in this pie distribution dilemma?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 4:39
Oh my god, like trying to hide the knife! Leaving, leaving the break room all together.
Marsha Clark 4:47
That's right. They could leave the room, either literally or at least metaphorically. And they do not have enough of a compelling reason to even engage in the pie distribution drama. They don't like pie. They don't need any more pie. Or it's not clear that they're supposed to bring back pie, you know, that kind of thing. And they likewise don't have a compelling reason to go out of their way to give you their portion. So no pie and no relationship building.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 5:14
Marsha Clark 5:17
No pie for you.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 5:20
I think that's a Seinfeld Soup Nazi reference.
Marsha Clark 5:22
Okay, that okay, that may be aging us. So yeah, it does seem appropriate for those who know about that episode of the Seinfeld show. So back to our pie. And so how is compromise different than collaboration? So Ralph Killman, this is the you know, Thomas/Killman model, he explains that collaborating is different from a quick middle ground attempt at giving each person only something of what they really want.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 5:52
So what happens to the pie when we're using the collaborative approach?
Marsha Clark 5:56
Yes, so this is where we get to ask questions like, what else is possible, one of my favorites. How can we look at this problem differently in order to support everyone's needs? And so collectively, we're going to explore things like can we make more pie? Do we have the ingredients to expand that resource or the resource? Do we have the time to make more? Is there a different treat that we can use to supplement the pie we have so everyone gets something they want? Do we have to split the pie today? Can this wait? So that's the collaborative collective. So if we look at the example of a typical compromise solution to a pie dilemma...
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 6:40
With compromise, I'm assuming I get half and you get half. It's a 50-50.
Marsha Clark 6:44
Exactly. Or it could be some variation of a split, right. In the end, everyone ends up with something but not exactly what they wanted. And the way that again, Ralph Killman describes the difference is compromising is in the middle. By definition, compromising is when each person is getting partially satisfied, but not completely satisfied.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 7:08
Okay. And so that's why the title of this episode is "Compromise - A Four Letter Word", because it's not really, it's not really a ringing endorsement of compromise as an approach, is it?
Marsha Clark 7:20
Well, it's not. And I don't want to, you know, all of these are good used in the right scenario. So I want to be really clear about that. But that's intended to draw our attention to the reality that even the word "compromise", you know, it doesn't naturally generate great feelings when I feel like I've had to, get it, compromise, and only partially satisfied but never completely satisfied. So really, who wants to go through life as someone who can never be satisfied?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 7:50
And now a "Hamilton" reference! We've got the culture today.
Marsha Clark 7:56
And I'm going to try that a little more here. So let's go back to the 13th century to find the origins of the word compromise. We, you know, we always try to give us a definition or something that really roots us and grounds us in what we're talking about. And many of us may remember that prefix of "com' (c-o-m as in mother) or "con", (c-o-n as in Nancy), whether it be from our French or Spanish classes and "con and com" means 'together or with'. So think about "com" with promise. Com, promise, or compromise.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 8:34
Okay, I've never broken it down like that before. With promise.
Marsha Clark 8:39
Right. So the word itself is traced back to the 13th century Old French have com promis without the E on the end. And in the mid 15th century, there's a reference to compromise being and I quote, "A sense of coming to terms, a settlement of differences by mutual concessions".
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 9:03
I'm going to hone in on that word "concessions" or, again, only being partially satisfied.
Marsha Clark 9:09
That's right. And so despite the roots of the words being rather positive and hopeful with promise, the use of the word is frequently in a negative connotation. You know, again, I'll date myself. For example, Janis Joplin, rock and roll singer from Texas in the 60's and 70's, is quoted as saying, "Don't compromise yourself. You're all you've got."
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 9:33
Oh, okay. So Janis Joplin, a big "NO" vote for compromise. Got it.
Marsha Clark 9:40
And here's another one by Robert Fritz, and he's written several books about visions and values and so on. And he says, "If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want and all that is left is compromise." So again, even Robert Fritz talks about it. You limit yourself, you disconnect yourself, and all you're left with is compromise.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 10:10
Wow. And another not so flattering review of compromising.
Marsha Clark 10:15
Yeah, you know, some people may recognize Janis Joplin's name, but maybe not Robert Fritz, but we use his work quite a bit when we're exploring, creating that compelling vision kinds of things because even creating our own compelling vision, we don't want to limit ourselves. We don't want to be partially satisfied.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 10:33
Marsha Clark 10:35
And the last quote I want to share really hit home with me, again, with the often dismal view of compromising, and it's a quote from Edi Rama, who is the prime minister of Albania. And his quote is, "Compromise, in colors, is gray.'
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 10:55
Ooh. Compromise is gray, like neh, like...
Marsha Clark 11:00
Yeah, like neutral or you know, of no color or...
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 11:05
The color of cubicles!
Marsha Clark 11:08
That's true. That's true. And if you think about it, gray's that neutral tone, it's a midway point of black and white. So again, it's a little bit of black and a little white. And guess what you get? It's gray.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 11:19
Okay, so we're 11 minutes into this episode. And we're, does anyone like compromise?
Marsha Clark 11:27
Well, you know, I'll be honest. As we were researching this episode, you know, we looked for positive quotes about compromise. And quite honestly, we had a hard time finding many. And the best one we could find, and again, I guess it reflects our Texas roots a bit, came from Barbara Bush who is the wife of the former US president, George H.W. Bush, 41, not 43. (Right.) And she, Mrs. Bush, is credited with saying, "I hate the fact that people think compromise is a dirty word."
You know, I'm kind of with her. It's, it's sad that the idea of compromising has such a bad rap because it's one of these conflict tools.
It is. And it's a legitimate, credible, useful, valuable tool. And I've found that most people automatically assuming that the best or ideal approach to managing conflict is collaboration. And then there is this prevailing attitude that somehow compromise is a dirty word, if you will. And I want to point out an interesting explanation of why that the compromise can have such a negative impression on people. And there's a gentleman by the name of Geoff Nunberg, and he's a contributor to NPR, the radio station, Fresh Air program, and he was sharing what the word compromise really means, on the show, and he explained it this way: "The word compromise faces in two directions. It looks forward to the bargains we strike and it looks backwards at what we had to sacrifice to get there." And that explains how the word can also mean "betray or put at risk", particularly when it's followed by a noun like security or honor. So like compromise security, compromise honor.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 13:21
Interesting. Okay, so looking backward at our sacrifices from previous compromises, that helps me see why it's often experienced through a negative lens. So okay, that's a helpful review of all five of the approaches. But let's focus on today's spotlight, the compromising conflict response mode. Okay, so as we've done in the previous four approaches, we're pulling from Chapter Nine in your book, "Embracing Your Power" to flesh out these conflict response modes. With each one, we first explore situations where this particular approach makes sense. So Marsha, what are some good examples of compromise?
Marsha Clark 14:03
Yes, as in all five of these approaches, there are certain circumstances where this is a desirable approach, okay? And I include in this one, compromising, the three that I share are when you're one, reaching resolution with equal power. You and I could be peers or we're on the same, you know, level or grounding, and we want to reach resolution. The second is creating temporary solutions. So if we're up against a deadline, and we've got to, you know, make a decision and move forward in order to meet our contractual obligations, or whatever that might be, we may have to temporarily put some solutions in place and compromise a bit. And that ties into the third one, which is dealing with those time constraints.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 14:51
So I'll admit that the second two situations really made sense to me because I've had to compromise when we've been under time constraints or needed a short term or a temporary solution. But the first time I saw reaching resolution with equal power, I wasn't sure how that applied to compromising.
Marsha Clark 15:11
Okay. Well then let's look at the other two first, the two more people might be familiar with, and then I'll save that equal power scenario for last.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 15:20
Marsha Clark 15:21
So I'm going to quote from the book here because I want to be really clear and crisp as I talk about this. So creating temporary solutions, this is where compromising can be a short term as well as a long term solution. So some of these, we may use first and then go to something second, this one could be that so it can be short or long term. And you may be able to agree on some imminent issues that have a deadline or maybe are critical path items before you can move ahead to achieve those long term objectives. And I add this caveat or caution whenever I talk about this approach. And my caution is to make sure that short term decisions or solutions don't limit you or basically come back to haunt you, when you're pursuing your longer term or long road decisions. So it's the old start with the end in mind and take as comprehensive a view as you can, knowing that potentially new information will surface and you have to be ready to flex accordingly.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 16:26
Yeah, I'm going to date myself now. I am currently re-watching the West Wing episodes on HBO Max. And this creating temporary solutions aspect of compromise is highlighted so often between Martin Sheen's character as the President and other countries that he deals with, like China and Russia and, you know, things that go on in Africa and whatever. And he has to, on a moment's notice sometimes have to deal with the leaders of these countries that are threatening to invade other countries, and creating some kind of compromise, knowing that it's a temporary solution, just to de-escalate everyone's emotions.
Marsha Clark 17:13
Yeah, I think we live them every day. I think our political world is as representative of our willingness to compromise or not, right? And that we can get into very polarized positions where there appears to be no middle ground. (Right, right.) So dealing with time constraints is another example of when the compromise approach might make the most sense. So again, from the book, if the conversation to resolve a conflict or reach a decision is based on a longer term project, you may want to break it down into phases or stages or milestones, however you want to, you may describe that. So no matter what you're working on, you've got to be able to communicate progress and report on the status. So breaking a big project, you know, several months, weeks, whatever, a big task, a big decision, or even a resolution into those smaller parts is often helpful in reaching some sort of an agreement. And it's basically breaking it down so you can get your arms around it because it can seem so big or overwhelming that you can, you can either get into analysis paralysis or really get stuck and that really serves no one.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 18:25
Marsha Clark 18:27
So the third scenario, so coming back to where compromise can be helpful or appropriate, is when you're trying to reach a resolution with equal power. And this is where each party is coming to the table with equal authority and power, regardless of positional power. And I want to, you know, emphasize that. And it's important to ensure that there's alignment on this equality before you get started.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 18:54
Yeah, you mentioned in the book that this is tricky to do, or can get complicated quickly.
Marsha Clark 18:59
Right. It absolutely can. And knowing how much power influence you're bringing into the room isn't always obvious. And make sure you know what authority you have. Can you say yes to this, and do you have to ask someone else about that, you know. That's what I mean by that. And in addition to that, knowing what authority you have, what you can give up and what your priorities are for your ask. So you may need to include your boss or some other subject matter expert and make sure you do the adequate planning and preparation before moving into that conversation to know what that authority is.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 19:35
Yeah, that's a really good point because it's hard to negotiate and find the lines in the sand for a good compromise if you're not really sure what you have to work with in the first place.
Marsha Clark 19:46
Well, it's virtually impossible to negotiate a fair compromise. And, you know, we've now inserted the word fair, if you aren't clear. And, you know, likewise, if you're the person that's delegating decision making or that negotiation or compromising to someone else, you know, you're expecting there to be a compromise solution and you need to acknowledge that you're extending your authority as that boss to them. And that means you need to make sure you provide them with thoughts, expectations, even boundaries. And as the conversations progress, continue to provide support to that team member, helping them to build their stronger negotiating or compromising skills.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 20:26
In addition to the typical situations where compromise makes sense, you also include four key skills connected to building a solid compromise solution. What are those?
Marsha Clark 20:38
Yeah. This is where I often wish we were visual. So I'm going to try and describe my arm movements. So the four skills speaking of building strong negotiating or compromising skills is one, knowing how to negotiate that give and take part, finding some sort of middle ground because this is in the middle of the model, making concessions, knowing what you're willing to give up in order to get something else. And then you have to assess value to whatever the offers that you're putting on the table. I often refer to them as the line items.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 20:38
Okay, so I love how you laid the initial groundwork for negotiating. Number one.
Marsha Clark 20:57
Sometimes less is more and you know, there's, this is definitely a simple process that I offer our listeners to use to help you basically prepare for and get clear. So, you know, here are the instructions that I offer, this hopefully will help with some visual visualization of this. So get a blank sheet of paper, just any kind, it can be a whiteboard, a flip chart, tablet, whatever, and draw a horizontal line across the middle of the page, okay, middle of this space. And note those concerns that are not negotiable below the line. Okay, so below the line is not negotiable. You know, what if it's contractual terms and conditions, write them down there, if it's, we've only got this much budget to spend, write it down there. And these are elements that you either declare are the givens, in other words, you agree that this is the world in which we have to live so these are neither one of these we're going to bring up. They're off the table, and not ones, they're basically when you go back to compete (my way or the highway), these are things we both are in agreement we must have.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 22:32
Got it. Okay.
Marsha Clark 22:34
So above the line, note those line items or concerns that you're willing to give up or give on, right? I'll discuss how you're going to use that information in just a minute. But last, make a list of things you want. So above the line are the things that you're willing to give. And then you also want to say and here's what I want in return. Okay, so the given type of compromise. And so now you're ready to begin, once you've gotten clear about what that is. And you're, recognize that you're going to feel strongly about some issues and others, there's going to be some flexibility. But compromise requires that there's give and take on both sides. And you know, we've all always talked about the taglines and then the tagline for compromising is 'let's make a deal". (Yeah, exactly.) And an important part of this is feeling, you know, really being prepared to know that you are going to get as much as you give. And that's a feeling of reciprocity and fairness.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 23:33
Absolutely. And this simple exercise is a great way of getting clear and prepped for your negotiation.
Marsha Clark 23:40
I couldn't agree with you more, and I use it myself and my coaching clients have found it to be very helpful to begin thinking about that and getting clear about before you go into the conversation and aren't trying to make spontaneous decisions.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 23:52
Absolutely. So the second skill related to compromising is "finding middle ground". Let's elaborate on that.
Marsha Clark 24:00
All right. This is the skill that helps you figure out what goes above and below that horizontal line. And so to find the middle ground, you need to consider both the result that you're trying to achieve and the relationship you want to nurture or build or grow, sustain whatever. And they're both key criteria in making this decision because both are of equal importance to you. And there aren't any firm guidelines. So you've got to bring in as many variables as possible. So time, money, people, customer impact, you know, contractual terms, and ensure that there's alignment with your key stakeholders in scope of your responsibility. And even I recommend to our listeners, playing out the scenarios, the different possible scenarios so that you can better understand the ripple effects of each of what you might consider your positions or your options.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 24:57
Yeah, and a lot of times that once you identify those middle ground item variables, I find, at least when I'm trying to negotiate, that if the more commonality I can start the negotiation with the less combative it tends to be. (Amen.) Like here, Joe, Jane. Here are all the things we agree on. Here are the several things that we don't. How can we, you know... it just makes the conflict feel smaller.
Marsha Clark 25:31
Well, it does and Wendi, have you ever heard the phrase, we're in violent agreement?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 25:36
No, but I like that.
Marsha Clark 25:38
I learned that early on in my corporate negotiating days that by putting everything down that you agree with, first of all, you're building on a foundation. It's a positive start to have negotiations and I kind of contrast that. I'm gonna go off script here a little bit. But we had a guy once at EDS and he would tell this story proudly because he was in the sales world. And so he was negotiating deals all the time. And he tells a story about he was going into a very big one between us and another very big name that everyone listening would recognize on this call. And we back in the days of white shirts, ties, all that kind of stuff in our, you know, suited dress code, he flips up his tie, rips open his shirt, buttons are popping across the room. And underneath his shirt he has on a t shirt that says "My lawyer is better than your lawyer." And that's a way he probably started that negotiation. And I'm thinking, I don't want to do that. And so by building on these things that we agree on, it takes away the violent agreement, because maybe we're using different words, or maybe I think you're gonna come in against it and come to find out you agree with it. Yeah, I mean, just get all of those distractions and that junk out of the way.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 26:55
Exactly, exactly. So this requires a lot of preparation that goes into the development of an effective compromise. And, you know, I love that you're describing this process. So the next skill that you include in the book is called making concessions. And I think it's one of my favorite examples you use, because I can relate to how fake compromisers try to make you think you're getting such a great deal.
Marsha Clark 27:22
Ever try to buy a car? They're the ones that always get me. So what Wendi's referring to here are the two very different approaches to making concessions during a negotiation that I've most often experienced. And, you know, by its very definition, compromising is going to require you to be willing to make that decision. And in my experience, there are two tones that making the concessions can take and the first one involves one person convincing another that they should be forever grateful and that giving up whatever that person is giving up is a big deal. You know, I'll give you this, but oh my God, you know, I mean, it's like drama.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 28:00
Yeah, right, like electric windows in your new car.
Marsha Clark 28:06
Right, exactly. Or, you know, a radio. (That's crazy). So we've all been in that situation with a person, and the second approach is more of a "we're in this together and I want to be fair and reasonable" tone. It's not again, you've got to let go of the winning versus losing and shift that to the giving and the getting, if you will. And you know, the first prioritize the results I want and the second also, not just the results considers the relationship which is what we're trying to do in the compromise world. So be thoughtful and intentional in tone and language as well as in determining where the line goes and what's above it and what's below it.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 28:47
Yeah, such good advice. I mean, I also appreciate the guidance that you're offering with the fourth skill you include, assessing value to a situation or a line item.
Marsha Clark 28:59
Right. And pretty much every one of my coaching clients has used this process because it's critical to be clear and to lead to powerful negotiation. So when you assess value, you've gotta take from your list of what's above the line and prioritize them. So the first thing I'm willing to give on is "x". The second thing I'm willing to give on is"y". And here's what I want in return, and so on. So you kind of go one for one, two for two, three for three, and so on. So if possible, if you can assign a monetary value to each line item, it makes it easier and ensures that you're getting an equivalent value for each item that you're giving up. So if my number one is worth $200, I'm just making round numbers, and yours is only worth $100, I'm going to say what else you got, because I want something equivalent to my $200.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 30:00
Okay, so you include an example of this in your book, the idea of equivalent value. And I think our listeners would appreciate hearing that.
Marsha Clark 30:08
Yeah, and I'll quote from the book here just because I you know, I ad lib. And so this is what I am really trying to say here. "If your number one concern to give up is worth (and this, I said $200 a moment ago) $100 and the person you're interacting with has a number one item to exchange with you and it's worth $50, you'll want to ask what their number two item is to ensure greater equivalency of your $100 item. So it's a give and take of reciprocity and fairness."
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 30:39
Okay, but now not everything can be assigned a direct and specific monetary value. So what's a good example of that?
Marsha Clark 30:49
I usually use this one, where you have maybe a request for an accelerated project deadline. So your compromising position or offer might be to ask for additional resources in order to accelerate that deadline. It could require reallocating staff from another project to yours, approving a budget increase to hire contractors, that sort of thing. And my caution on this particular scenario is to make sure that adding resources will truly enable you to deliver on that accelerated date. And I always think of the analogy that someone told me early on in my career, because you know, the answer to everything is I need more people, I need more people. Or I need more time, right? But told to me early in the career is: "Nine women being pregnant for one month cannot give birth to a baby.'
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 31:45
Yeah, I'm just gonna let that sit there.
Marsha Clark 31:49
Well, but I mean, just think about it. (It's true.) If I just bring more people in. (Right.) But that doesn't mean they have the skills or that we can do all the work at one time, that there's not critical path items that require special skills, or whatever that might be. And so throwing resources at a project doesn't always solve the problem.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 32:07
Exactly. It's definitely a very visual way to illustrate the point.
Marsha Clark 32:13
It's very clear, I think.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 32:14
Yes, yes. Okay. So, in your book you include consequences of overusing a particular conflict approach and then underusing it. So we're talking about compromising today. What happens when we overuse it?
Marsha Clark 32:29
So when I'm working with my clients, I caution them that the overuse of compromise where they are always looking for that elusive happy medium or halfway point can be problematic. And for our listeners, pay attention to how often you find yourself trying to make a deal or trying to please everyone else by giving in or giving up. Just find how many times you find yourselves, in order to please everyone else, that you find yourselves giving in or giving up. And I call it the potential canary in the coal mine, you know, watch out opportunity. Is that a repeated pattern for you? What results are you trying to achieve, and at some point only getting 50% of what you need or want is going to catch up to you. And perhaps your team or your organization, it can maintain a status quo, it can maintain, it can prevent the innovation and the generative thinking that you often are looking for.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 33:30
I would also think that it would start a simmer pot of people just being frustrated and upset because we're never accomplishing anything. We're never getting to 100% of anything. Okay, so long term benefits could be missed out on, not really reaching your ultimate goals because you're constantly compromising. And that really, it makes the earlier quotes even more relevant that constant compromise can create a lifetime of gray as we talked about earlier.
Marsha Clark 34:02
So true and you know, as is true with all these responses, too much of any one of them can create consequences we don't want, these not so great consequences of gray or partially satisfied.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 34:18
So you list in the book two specific ideas of the overuse of compromise and those are losing sight of the big picture/long term goals, and lack of trust. Okay, so share with us what's going on in the first one, losing sight of the big picture/long term goals.
Marsha Clark 34:40
Yes. So when we overuse compromise, we can focus too much on what I describe as the line item exchange. I mean, I always have this visual that's I'll give you one of these for two of those.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 34:53
Oh my God, no, like cards on the table.
Marsha Clark 34:56
But basically this for that mentality, you know, and getting stuck there because I get so stuck on this for that. I can sub optimize the longer term goals or objectives or benefits that we're trying to achieve. And if you think about it this way, this is another thing I learned early in my career, you need a microscope on one eye, and a telescope on the other eye. So, you know, the microscope allows you to see the detail and to balance it with the big picture which is the telescope. I can see long term, I can see the big picture. And so doing this effectively requires you to plan effectively and understand those ripple effects of your decision.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 35:39
Yes. Considering the long term consequences, both intended and unintended, is critical there.
Marsha Clark 35:46
It is Wendi, and not only because it impacts, you know, one's ability to achieve the results you want. But it also has the potential to negatively impact the overall experience of working together, right, thinking about that relationship piece. And constant compromise means, in reality, what was that line from "Hamilton" again?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 36:05
"You'll never be satisfied."
Marsha Clark 36:08
And over time, that lack of satisfaction can create a cynical climate and reduced trust, which is the second consequence that I share in the book.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 36:17
Yeah, I really hadn't put these two together, but now I can see how never being satisfied can produce a cynical environment. I mean, we're kind of living it right now, as a society.
Marsha Clark 36:30
It is. It's all around us. And as leaders in our organizations, in our communities, and even in our homes we have to be really careful that we're not the one that's perpetuating this cynical, low trust climate.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 36:43
Okay, what is it that leaders are doing that's creating and perpetuating this?
Marsha Clark 36:48
And it's usually unintentional and we think of it as almost like a slippery slope, because certain behaviors that are repeated over time, (a dot's a dot, two dots a line, three dots a trend) and going back to that horizontal line in the middle of the page, what you include above and below the line is significantly important. And if you tell your team that what is below the line is uncompromisable and then you move the line, you know, think about it, resulting in something now becoming compromisable, you're gonna lose the trust and the competence of your team to believe that you're standing up for what you previously stated and what you've promised them or what you've committed to them.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 36:48
Exactly, I've seen this happen.
Marsha Clark 36:53
Well, there are definitely times when any of us as a leader can walk into a meeting with my non negotiables and then, you know, ultimately the decision can be overridden or superseded, whether it be by your leadership or your clients or even market conditions that are changing. And the emphasis here in this creating a cynical climate or lacking, you know, reducing trust is the pattern of such behavior. It's not that I moved the line once every now and then. It's every single time that generates this mistrust. And it can definitely elicit cynicism when you declare where the line is and keep moving it.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 38:17
Exactly. I mean, that makes total sense. And the leader may not even realize that there's been a pattern or an accumulation of line moving or concessions over time that finally hit the breaking point with the team.
Marsha Clark 38:32
Well, I think that's right. And believe it or not, you know, this exact situation shows up time and time again when we do the betrayal exercises during our workshops on trust, right, you know, major, minor, intentional, unintentional, and people see this constant or accumulated concession making, moving the line, as a betrayal. And they were really expecting you to stand up for them and once again, you returned with a less-than solution.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 39:02
Okay, this speaks to the advice you give in this section of the book where you say "Another important leadership choice is not to make promises you can't keep or that are tentative at best."
Marsha Clark 39:17
Yes, and that requires us to understand, to know, to study, to talk about, to socialize, to vet, to align - all of that. And you've got to work hard to get that alignment before you start making promises and drawing that line.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 39:33
Okay, so for our listeners who may have missed that whole episode where we talk about the betrayal continuum, that episode is episode number 23 and it's titled "In The Eyes of The Betrayed" and it dropped in late February of this year if you want to go back and listen.
Marsha Clark 39:50
Thanks for that. Good reminder.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 39:51
Yeah, I like to tie things together when I can. Okay, so our last topic for today is what happens when we underuse compromise.
Marsha Clark 40:00
Yes, and I often talk about the give and take of life, you know. So we all know that we can't get everything we want all the time. And we also know that you rarely get all or nothing, right? It's not all or nothing, there's something in between. So as we work through conflicts or decisions, you may want to always consider this compromising option. And at the same time, it doesn't mean you push hard to get everything without being willing to compromise. That looks too much like overuse of competing.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 40:33
Okay, the first consequence you share in the book of not using the compromise approach is that it can impact your ability to negotiate effectively. That seems pretty clear now that we've been talking about it.
Marsha Clark 40:46
Yes. And you know, I will say again, compromise and negotiations go hand in hand. And every leader quite honestly needs to be able to negotiate effectively with their teams, their peers, their bosses, customers, vendors and a wide variety of potential stakeholders. And, you know, this requires that clarity and intentionality as you're planning out your conversations or prepping for your conversations at where you want to present a position or a recommendation. And it requires strong analytical and strategic skills to help you determine where to draw that line and what's above it and what's below it. And effective negotiation is underpinned by the ability to prioritize and assess value to what you're willing to compromise. So how do you prioritize and assess the value of what your colleague is offering to you, the person on the other side of the conversation? And that's just the starting point.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 41:39
So there are skills involved in effective negotiation or the art of the compromise. And you recommend that people target and build those skills as a part of their development planning.
Marsha Clark 41:53
I do, Wendi, and they don't necessarily come naturally to people. And you know, some people are just much more prepared. It's like they've grown up negotiating.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 42:02
Right. Typically, the fourth child.
Marsha Clark 42:07
Be a leader and advocate who understands and knows how to use this art of negotiation well. Make it a part of your own development plans because it takes mindshare and it takes practice.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 42:19
And it's definitely uncomfortable in the beginning. So some other examples of likely consequences for underusing compromise that you include in the book is that you can create unnecessary confrontations or frequent power struggles. And I can see how that happens when the other person is never willing to compromise.
Marsha Clark 42:43
We know that person, right? Don't we all know a person or two like that?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 42:46
Yes, we do.
Marsha Clark 42:47
And we dread working with them because every time you meet or work with them, it's always a struggle. They rarely consider anybody else's point of view or perspective. I often refer to them as they think they're the smartest person in the room and to the extreme, they can also be viewed even as a bully, I mean, you know, I will manipulate you or I will bully you or antagonize you, and they seem to enjoy a good fight just for the sake of the fight. And in short, to my listeners, don't be that person. And consider the impact as well on your personal brand. Do you really want to be known in your network as the stubborn, inflexible colleague? Not likely. And these power struggles can be exhausting. And you can do what you're trying to do without them. So they're unnecessary because in the long run, they can ruin your reputation.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 43:42
Absolutely true. And there are some people that I avoid working with whenever I can because of this behavior.
Marsha Clark 43:48
Well, I think most of our listeners are conjuring up a name or a face in their minds right now because we all have those people. And, you know, I want to say I doubt that when you wake up in the morning, and, you know, while they're brushing their teeth, they think to themselves, how many ways can I be a total Jackass today and not flex on my position on anything?
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 44:10
There might be some people who are like that! I don't think there's many. You know, to me when people act this way, it's coming from a position of lack in some other shape or form in their lives.
Marsha Clark 44:24
Well, yes, there are maybe a few who do think that way. But, you know, I think the vast majority of our undercompromisers aren't doing it as part of a personal campaign to be known as a total jerk.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 44:36
Yeah, yep. Well, jury's out.
Marsha Clark 44:39
Well, but it's something to watch out for and to recognize it when it's there. But, you know, I also want to bring back one of my Marsha-isms on this one, and I said it earlier. I'll say it again here. "A dot is a dot, two dots are a line, and three dots are a trend." And in the case of these conflict response modes, and especially on compromising, if you're noticing that you're in a constant power struggle with multiple different people, it's time to ask yourself the insightful question "What or who is the common denominator here?" It's you. That's it, I'm whispering this. It's a secret. It's you. Hold up the mirror. It's possible that you're experiencing lots of pushback because you've taught people to be uncompromising with you because they know they're going to have to go to battle for everything they want or need.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 45:30
Oh, that's a really good point. It's kind of a check yourself moment.
Marsha Clark 45:35
Well, I often say we can see in others that which we cannot see in ourselves. While we're on this topic of, you know, the frequent power struggles and battles, I do want to point out to any moms that are listening today, you already know how to negotiate. I just want to call this up because I want to suggest you're likely a master negotiator. If you've ever heard yourself saying things like, I don't know, clean up your room and you can go to your friend's house, or make good grades and you can have whatever the newest electronic gadget or whatever, then you've been using negotiation skills like a wizard, right? I mean, the trick is for you to recognize that you may be a better negotiator than you think you are and to apply some of the same logic, reasoning, tenacity and skills in your professional life.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 46:30
And maybe think of those colleagues as children.
Marsha Clark 46:33
Well sometimes, especially the ones that are bullies, or you know, not willing, they're having temper tantrums. But I really mean this. I think we use it a lot personally. We don't always think about it professionally.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 46:47
Yes. Or we think automatically we default to I'm bad at it. I'm bad at it professionally.
Marsha Clark 46:52
Or I don't know how, I'm not comfortable, all of that. It's only going to come with practice and preparation that you'll get comfortable.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 47:01
Absolutely. Okay, Marsha, we're ready to wrap up today's episode on the the compromise approach to managing conflict and building relationships. What do you want to make sure our listeners take away from today's discussion?
Marsha Clark 47:15
Well, I want our listeners to recognize that compromise is a strategy and not just a consolation prize for not getting everything you wanted. It can be your deliberate approach in the right situation. And I also want them to recognize that compromise can also be a fallback solution. But again, they need to be prepared for that strategically. So this is if I don't get "x", then I'm going for "y". So maybe you're aiming for full collaboration and then something happens. Maybe your timeline speeds up, you lose resources, and you've got to make adjustments. So to keep from defaulting to some less-than solution, be prepared with negotiation skills and know what your non negotiables are and what you can bargain with in order to optimize the situation however you can. And you know, compromise doesn't deserve to be dismissed as a last ditch choice. It's valuable and perhaps even the optimal tool in your toolkit when used in the right scenario. So learning how to use it well is important. And I'm even thinking now about how much different things might be around the world if people could and would come together with promise, right, in a spirit of true compromise.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 48:33
I love that idea. Yeah. Okay, we're gonna leave that hanging there. I like that.
Marsha Clark 49:08
Well, I do too.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 48:41
Yeah. So Marsha, again, thank you for continuing to help us deepen our understanding of how to manage conflict and build relationships for better results and greater impact, and especially with this final fifth episode approach from the Thomas/Killman model. So compromise, fifth and final approach. And we do have one more episode in this series coming up next week. And that episode is going to take a high level look at how to strategically choose which conflict mode you're going to use and prepare that best approach from the five we've explored. So it's going to be a nice capstone to this mini series.
Marsha Clark 49:22
Well, I like it. I mean, this is a complicated topic. It's one that women can shy away from. And so we've tried to take it head on, do some deep dives. And I'm looking forward now to say how do we bring it all together and introduce our listeners to our conflict strategy prep checklist next week. And I think it will bring it all together nicely.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 49:44
I love it. I love it. Well, listeners, you got it here today, a fifth exploration of the conflict management tool. So thank you for joining us today on this journey of authentic and powerful leadership. Download, subscribe and share this podcast wherever you can with your female founder, entrepreneur, business leader friends, and visit Marsha's website at marshaclarkandassociates.com for links to all the tools, other resources we talked about today, the Thomas/Killman tool, and subscribe to Marsha's email list so you can stay up to date with everything that's going on in her world and find out more about her book, "Embracing Your Power". If you haven't gotten it yet, please get it now.
Marsha Clark 50:32
Well thank you very much, Wendi, for guiding us and leading us through another, I hope, a valuable conversation for our listeners. As I said, conflict is hard. It's hard for everyone, particularly hard for women. What we don't often realize, the majority of people who use the Thomas/Killman instrument show that compromise is one of their highest scores. And so we compromise more than we realize. And I hope this will help people get conscious. And I'm gonna take them all the way back to the beginning. These different avoid, accommodate, compete, collaborate, compromise are not just good for managing conflicts, but think about them in terms of decision making.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 50:32
Marsha Clark 50:32
If I begin to think about it in terms of we have to make a decision and with every decision we're going to give up something and get something. And if I can think about it that way instead of Oh, it's a conflict and it's going to be hard, we're gonna yell at each other, they're going to pound fists, I'm going to be nervous, you know, all that. But we're here to make the best decision in service to whatever our larger goal is.
Wendi McGowan-Ellis 51:27
That takes the drama out of it. Like it's not, you're not on the Bravo network. This is a scenario where a decision needs to be made and the best decision needs to be made. And hopefully you've positioned yourself as the leader of part of a team that understands they want, everyone agrees that they want the best decision to be made.
Marsha Clark 52:04
I can't tell you how many coaching conversations I've had with both men and women on these topics over the last several months when big decisions are being made that impact lots of people. And so listeners, once again, we hope that we have brought you value. And as Wendi said, please share this with people you think can benefit from it. And there's a lot of good material in the book. If you haven't purchased that I hope you will, not just for you know my ego, but because I think it's a useful tool in your leadership library. So, as always, we appreciate you. We want to hear from you. And here's to women supporting women!