Have you really got a ‘win:win’ – or just a compromise?


This question frequently comes up in workshops about influencing, persuading and negotiating:

“Surely a compromise IS a win:win – right?”

Erm, not really – although at first glance, it may appear to be. However, the difference is important, whether you’re negotiating B2B with multiple stakeholders, agreeing terms on your new job contract or deciding who gets which room in your holiday rental.

What’s good about a compromise?

  • It’s often good enough to work. ‘Let’s meet halfway’, ‘Let’s make a deal’ may satisfy.
  • A compromise may be better than impasse, which can drag things down and out.
  • It can buy time if a temporary, ‘middle ground’ solution can be agreed.
  • Compromising can work when time is tight and all parties want to get going.
  • It’s less likely to cause the emotional wear, tear and damage that can result from assertive hard bargaining, which can harm relationships.

What’s not so good about a compromise?

  • Typically, a ‘BATNA’ (Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement) compromise means that both parties have to concede something. Yes, there’s an element of ‘win’ – but some needs aren’t met. No-one gets everything they wanted; they’ve settled for less.
  • Frustration about the deal may lead to simmering resentment – which may boil over later.
  • If a deal involving concessions was sealed in haste to achieve a temporary solution it will, by definition, reach a deadline or expiry date. And then it’s back to the drawing board and negotiation table.
  • Ironically, if a hasty handshake promised speed, delays can happen as gaps in knowledge and processes open up.
  • Quality can suffer, due to unclear communications leading to misunderstandings and lower commitment leading to ‘papering over the cracks’.

What’s better than a compromise?

In an ideal situation there’s collaboration, meaning all parties’ needs are expressed, discussed and met. Identifying what’s at stake for the stakeholders demands more effort than simply settling for a BATNA. Unlike a compromise, collaboration requires a combination of time, energy, and openness to fully understand what a ‘win’ is for all concerned, along with commitment to achieve a mutually beneficial win:win. If the stakes are high enough, much more can be achieved.


You may find this post useful: ‘What do people really mean when they ask for ‘collaboration’?’


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’


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