Many say that life is about compromises. They are right.
But when can we find a compromise?
What are the driving forces when two people don’t want the same thing and a decision is to be made? What leads to a decision that will either result in a compromise or a disagreement? Those are the questions I was pondering recently.
Let’s take an example of a very fortunate misalignment. One of my ancestors in the 19th century left Sicily and ended up in the Habsburg Empire, he came as far as Hungary. Maybe because of this heritage, one day, I’d like to visit Sicily. Oh, and another day I’d also like to visit the Eternal City, Rome. In fact, these two dreams have nothing in common except for Italy. I’d be generally OK to take some shorter vacations every year.
On the contrary, my wife has a big dream. She’d like to go to the Pacific Ocean and visit the Cook Islands and even some remote islands of the already quite remote French Polynesia. She knows that most people would never accomplish such a dream as it costs way too much money. She would be totally OK not to go anywhere on vacation even for 10 years (apart from visiting our families every year). So she would be ready to make some sacrifices, and that is already a sort of a compromise.
Let’s take her compromise, going to once in 10 years for s long breathtaking vacation instead of doing many smaller trips.
What’s behind this compromise?
In this case, we either find a compromise led by inefficiencies or we become more efficient.
(In)Efficient in terms of what?
The inefficiencies here are related to the money we make and the time we can spend on vacation.
This means there are different solutions to solve this “problem”.
- Increase both the money we make and our time available for vacations. Quite tricky and it probably doesn’t work in the short term, but it’s not impossible in the mid-term.
- Make a compromise and decide what’s more important? Yearly smaller travels or once-in-a-lifetime holidays once in a decade?
What makes a compromise (im)possible?
But how to make a compromise? Or maybe it’s better to ask if we can make a compromise.
It boils down to the nature of our differences.
If the differences are only about interests, then we can probably make a compromise. I mean if I have an interest and someone else has a different one, we can probably agree somewhere in between.
Let’s take an example, now from the professional world. Let’s say you want to work on C++-related projects, but your manager wants to put you on a frontend mission. Oh, oh. What to do? If you want to follow your passion and you want to dig deeper into C++, then your interest is to keep working on a project involving C++. But your manager needs someone experienced with good soft skills to help a team ramp up on a project and you’re such a valuable person.
He’d also be happy to see you picking up some frontend skills, to make you more T-shaped. But more importantly, he needs someone having valuable DevOps and coaching experience in the team, at least in the beginning while the foundations are laid out. You like the team, and you like the company, but you don’t like the idea of working on the front-end side. Therefore your first choice is probably not to leave the company and your manager wouldn’t want that either.
If we look at this problem rationally, we’ll find some common grounds, we’ll find a compromise. We understand that we have to find a compromise within the employee-company triangle. Maybe you could join the project for a predefined time, like 3 months. Or maybe you could work on it part-time, while in the other part of your time, you’d keep doing some C++. You have your own interests and someone else - in this case, your manager - has different ones. Most probably you can agree somewhere in the middle.
We are primarily emotional, but also rational a bit. We understand that we have to agree on something, we have to give something up.
When compromise becomes impossible
So far we’ve seen a misalignment which was seemingly only about mild preferences but in reality more about inadequate resources. Then we saw that sometimes people have different interests and that’s why their points of view differ. These two can be solved. Maybe not easily, but still relatively simply.
But there is a third case and it’s about values.
Let’s say you want to do something because you believe doing so is the right thing. Supporting a specific cause is the centre of your values, or at least it’s a must value for you. At the same time, someone else doesn’t support it, because he believes in the contrary. Let’s say you believe in the freedom of speech as long it’s not about calling for aggression against others. That includes things that are controversial or sometimes even objectively untrue. But the other party thinks that everything that does not fit his reality, or is objectively a lie should be censored. Both parties believe that what they support is the right thing and the other point of view is inferior if not inherently bad or even evil.
In such cases, it’s difficult to imagine any compromise.
It’s not probable and not even healthy either to expect one to completely surrender and give up his/her beliefs.
What can be done in such cases?
The best thing you can do is to agree that you do not agree, respect each other’s right to have a different opinion and don’t even try to cooperate on that given topic. If there are too many such topics, part ways. If it’s in a work context, as an employee, you might accept once or twice that you have to do things that you do not believe in, or you believe the contrary. But if such situations are repeating, you should probably look for another job. You might make a compromise but it’s unhealthy. I think you should not stay in such personal relationships either. Life is too short to live it in frustration and in constant petty battles. You should not go against your values. You either live by them or revise them. Growing, learning and changing your values is fine, but don’t just sweep them under the carpet.
Finding a compromise is the art of life. Many say life is about finding compromises. It is sometimes easier than other times. It depends on the root causes behind the problem you try to solve. If it’s only about inefficiencies, a compromise can be often easily made. Though it requires that all involved people understand where resources are short.
If a compromise is needed because of different interests, it’s still possible to find a solution that is acceptable for all. But there is a third case when the misalignment is over differing values of the involved. In such cases, it’s difficult or even impossible to find a good, acceptable solution for all.
Try to understand before looking for a compromise why you need one in the first place. It will help you understand how to find a solution.