When people disagree, usually the goal is to find a compromise or a happy medium. In compromise, both parties come to an agreement that allows them to both win and lose the argument. In the compromise, each person gets some of what they want but also has to give up some of their desired agenda. Compromise arises out of the realization that it may be unachievable to reach each person’s desired goal. For the sake of a resolution, both parties agree to give something up in order to gain a greater goal. It is a beautiful thing when it goes right. However, sometimes we make compromises that we later regret and we end up resenting the other person. What is it that causes us to regret compromise and resent others?
If we take into account that compromise always involves giving up something in order to gain a greater goal, we can begin to see where compromise can go awry. If I perceive that the cost of what I have given up is greater than what I gained, I will eventually regret the decision and resent the other person for taking something from me. Often compromise is reached out of a desire to keep the peace. When we give in without feeling heard, we walk away with bad feelings and a sense of dissatisfaction.
In our society, we stand in opposition with each other on many issues. Some opinions have become so deeply entrenched that each side displays hatred for the other. Why do people dig their heels in and refuse to move? Because they are afraid that to do so would require them to give up a part of themselves. If persuasion was only about the facts, compromise would be easy. Yet, many times we treat disagreement as failing to acknowledge the facts. It becomes an issue of right or wrong, black or white; when, in reality there is a lot of color in between that gets overlooked.
Opinions are not facts. Opinions hold meaning and belief shaped by human experience and emotion. When we fail to acknowledge the deeper meanings behind our opinions, we are left feeling disenfranchised and marginalized. We walk away feeling like we don’t hold a right to weigh in on the matter. We think it is our opinion that we want others to hear but deep down, it is something far greater. It is our innate desire to be heard and validated. When we get caught up in the battle of who wins and loses , we both end up losing. So how can we find a way to compromise that allows us both to win?
1. We both give up the right to persuade the other person to take up our viewpoint. In other words, we adjust our goal. It no longer becomes about solving the conflict and winning people over to our viewpoint; but, instead becomes about opening up dialogue to understand one another better. When we give up this right, we are more open to hearing the other person’s perspective.
2. Put yourself in in the other person’s shoes. Recognizing the other person’s perspective doesn’t mean we have to agree with their point. It means we willingly suspend our own viewpoint for a moment so we can look at the issue through their lens. Entering into the other person’s world tells them that you want to understand them better. It promotes a relational bond. It says, “Let’s trade places for awhile so we can gain a different perspective on the issue and in doing so, we can understand each other better.
3. Acknowledge the feelings and meaning that led them to hold their belief. Often we hold strong beliefs based on things that have happened to us or what we are currently experiencing. We have emotions tied to those memories that shape our viewpoint. When we can say to the other person, “I really see why you feel the way you do,” we validate their right to hold their opinion. It acknowledges the experiences they have had that have shaped their view and lets them know that they were heard and understood.
4. Ask questions that seek to address the experiences and emotions that are behind their opinion. Gottman’s Conflict Blueprint states that “within every complaint there is a longing and a recipe”. In other words, seek to understand the longing behind what they are saying and listen for ways that longing can be fulfilled. Often there is a meaning for them that you aren’t aware of. If they aren’t communicating these things, ask more questions! Just be sure to frame your questions in a way that says, “help me understand you better” and avoids putting them in a position where they feel the need to defend their position.
Consider the following two response to a wife’s complaint that her husband doesn’t love her:
“How can you say that after all of the long hours I have put in at work so I can provide a better life for you?”
“Help me understand how I can do a better job of making you feel loved.”
The first response tells the speaker that they don’t have a right to their feelings. It tells them that they are wrong to feel the way they do. The second response says, “Your feelings (and therefore, you) matter to me and I want to help meet your need.” In reality, the husband may have been very loving toward his wife. He may have been doing things to show her love that were going unnoticed. One could technically conclude that she was wrong based on this evidence.
It would be very easy for the husband to have been hurt by his wife’s lack of acknowledgment of the ways he shows her love. He could have responded out of that hurt and felt the need to defend himself out of a fear that in order to see her view, he would have to let go of his own. The truth is, in asking how he can meet his wife’s need, he isn’t saying that her argument was true. He still loves her even though she doesn’t feel loved. He is simply trying to enter her world and see it from her vantage point.
When we suspend our own agenda, enter into the other person’s world, name and validate their feelings, and ask questions that get to the deeper meaning, we are in essence telling them, “You matter and I want to know you better so I can show you the respect and dignity you deserve.” We may walk away from the discussion still holding opposing viewpoints, but we have strengthened our relationships in the process. Often, those strengthened relationships are the greater reward that motivates us to yield and bend in a compromise that leaves no hard feelings or regrets.