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Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language defines compromise in this way:
- A settlement in which each side gives up some demands or makes concessions
- An adjustment of opposing principles, systems, etc., in which part of each is given up
- The result of such an adjustment or settlement
- Something midway between different things
- A laying open to danger, suspicion, or disrepute, as a compromise of one's good name, or; to surrender or give up (one's interest, principles, etc.)
Compromise necessarily, then, leads to a result that has the great risk of being suboptimal because the concessions made can easily preclude consideration of alternatives and important viewpoints. One of the factors that those who promote compromise as a means of making decisions use as justification is that each side gives up something they want, and thus each side can "live with" the result. In reality, neither side will give up something critically important to them while expecting the other to do just that. The end result is often that either no decision or agreement can be reached or one or both of the parties is unhappy with the result. Too frequently, the ultimate result is failure because one or both parties do not fully support the agreement, which becomes more likely if one party feels it gave more than the other or had to give up something related to its principles or best interest.
In an increasingly complex world, compromise is not the best way to reach decisions. An approach that fully and objectively examines all points of view and ideas is needed to arrive at workable solutions to problems and issues as diverse as those we see in the world today.
Anyone who has worked inside any company, large or small, knows that it is often very challenging to make decisions. Different personalities, diverse interactions, company politics, and even social, political, and economic philosophies present barriers to agreement. Add to that the basic competitive nature of human beings and the result can be a bubbling stewpot of rancor, foxhole-digging, foot-dragging, backbiting, criticism, individual conflict, and an attitude of an "I win, you lose" zero-sum game that leads to, at best, nonoptimal decisions and at worst, paralysis and no decisions at all.
This description applies to virtually any type of organization, not just the corporate setting. It can be seen in organizations, nonprofits, politics, families, churches, schools, and any other setting in which a group of people, whether it be two or many, must meet and make decisions on any topic. All of us have seen the results of committee deliberations aimed at making decisions in a number of these seemingly different settings. Quite often, when we watch the process, we understand the saying that "A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled." The three authors have worked in a variety of different companies and noncorporate settings, including small local companies (fewer than 10 employees) to very large multinational corporations; they have been a part of boards of directors and trustees of nonprofits, school and church groups, neighborhood organizations, and others. They have all had the (mis)fortune of serving on committees charged with making decisions ranging from purchasing equipment to basic corporate strategy for international product development.
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