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The Power of Compromise



Compromise, as with all things, has both good and bad applications—and both are powerful. When I think about the negative power of compromise, I think of all the lessons I’ve learned that I talk about in Refined by Failure. Every mistake made, every failure, every lesson learned was a result of compromising my values, my standards, and my rules.


In those cases, the compromise was almost always tied to my reluctance to face confrontation; I wanted to delay it as long as possible. I wanted acceptance so badly that I would compromise things that were important to me in order to get it. That kind of compromise is really unhealthy.


Negative compromise sometimes comes about when you want a situation to move forward faster, or you’re afraid if you don’t compromise, you won’t get what you want, and you want that thing so bad. It didn’t really hit me until right now that most of the time, negative compromise occurs due to selfishness. We want what we want, how we want it, when we want it—and that’s usually NOW. Selfish compromise can do real damage, and has led to my greatest cost of failure: damage to my reputation, and the reputations of people I’ve worked with.


Being the baby of my family, and the only child of my mom and dad together, I was spoiled beyond belief. Unfortunately, getting what you want when you want it, all the time, creates a pattern of selfishness. When you get to the real world, having been conditioned to getting what you want, then you get a rude awakening. The consequences of that ingrained pattern end up hitting you right between the eyes. This ends up creating insanity—doing the same thing over and over expecting different results—because we have not yet identified that the foundation of the problem is ourselves, our selfish inner child.

 

When you don’t have a good understanding of your why and your boundaries, it is very easy for your desire to compromise your wants to meet another person’s needs, to turn into you compromising your needs to meet another person’s wants.

 

Let’s talk about the flip side: good compromise. Healthy compromise. This is founded on wanting more for others than you do for yourself. In Stephen Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, habit five is "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood." When we do that, we may compromise what we want in the moment to better understand the situation. Then, when we fully understand, we may compromise what we want because now we know “why.”


This isn’t compromising our standards or our beliefs, but rather compromising something like timing, because we now understand that to really get what we want, we have to take the time to help others come along with us. Sometimes we have to compromise our desire to be a leader in all situations in order to serve. I can compromise my wants to meet another person’s needs. That’s what a servant does.


This also has a dark side that you have to be aware of. Unhealthy compromise is when our desire to meet other people’s needs actually drains us because we’re giving more than we’re able to. That’s codependence, enablement, being a martyr (or acting like one). When you don’t have a good understanding of your why and your boundaries, it is very easy for your desire to compromise your wants to meet another person’s needs, to turn into you compromising your needs to meet another person’s wants. When you aren’t solid in who you are, it’s easy to confuse those two things.


Like most things in life, there is both good and bad.


If I want to have it my way no matter what, compromise is a bad thing. If I want to help others no matter what, compromise is a bad thing. But if I want to serve others in a healthy way, that is living out Rule 7: Helping others get what they want, then getting what we want. This is practicing healthy compromise.

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