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Don't compromise, try to collaborate
By Sid Scott, Scott Consultants

If you are like I am, you've just about had enough of the criticism, disagreement, finger-pointing and people digging in to defend their ideas regarding how to fix our country rather than agreeing to work together. Occasionally, someone utters the phrase, "Let’s see if we can compromise" as a way of bringing opposites together, but it has seemed to be far too uncommon recently.

While compromise might be a good approach in some situations, believe in public discourse, politics, businesses, meetings, teams and in our private lives, we are better off in the long term if we try to collaborate with one another in order to solve problems and eliminate conflicts.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

Over three decades ago, two bright academics, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, designed an instrument to identify how individuals go about resolving conflicts. As is often the case in public forums and business settings, conflicts can become barriers to progress – something we have all experienced.

The Thomas-Kilmann model was based on two dimensions of behaviors that identify what they call the five "conflict handling modes.” If we plot these behaviors on a graph, the Y-axis shows the degree of assertiveness from low to high, and the X-axis shows the degree of cooperativeness from low to high. Using these dimensions, they describe the five "conflict handling modes” as follows:

Competing is high assertive and uncooperative – people pursue their own interests at the expense of others.

Accommodating is unassertive and cooperating – the opposite of Competing. In this case, the individual sacrifices his or her needs for the needs of others.

Avoiding is unassertive and uncooperative – the individual does not participate in resolving the conflict.

Compromising is in the middle of assertiveness and cooperativeness – both sides get some satisfaction and some dissatisfaction.

Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative – the opposite of Avoiding.

The instrument indicates to what degree each of us use these five modes to solve our conflicts and it can help identify the primary method we use in these situations. All of us use all five modes at times, and each can have value. Having used the instrument numerous times with a variety of teams and groups, I can attest to its validity and usefulness as a learning tool and a way to help train people how to work together.

While there are times to use Competing, Accommodating and Avoiding, none of these three methods works well in groups from my experience. This leaves us with two preferred methods to solve group conflicts and do group problem solving – Compromising and Collaborating.

When does Compromising work best?

Even though we sacrifice the opportunity to meet some of our needs and some of those of other involved in the conflict, there are times when compromise makes sense – at least in the short term. Examples would include situations when the issues are not of enough importance to warrant the time necessary to collaborate, or if a complex situation needs a temporary fix because of time constraints. Remember the Debt Ceiling discussions, roadblocks and eventual compromise at the 11th hour? Did anyone really come away satisfied?

Compromising can also work when both sides have pretty much equal power and are strongly committed to their goals. In the past, this was often the case with labor-management bargaining. Recently, with organized labor losing some of its strength of numbers, negotiations have been settled with Competing and Accommodating modes – neither method good for sustaining long term relationships or companies.

In the end, compromising leaves a lot to be desired.


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