The Compromise Imperative
Bill Cottringer

“I shall argue that strong men, conversely, know when to compromise and that all principles can be compromised to serve a greater principle. ~Andrew Carnegie.

Our main thinking paradigm today is still stuck somewhere between a competitive, win-lose mentality model and a cooperative, win-win model. Russell Crowe in the movie “A Beautiful Mind” played the genius John Nash in discovering a primary driving force in economics. He realized the inevitability of this progression from a win-lose mentality to a win-win one.

With the cerebral efforts that took him to the edge of sanity, Dr. Nash discovered that cooperation in economics, as an original governing principle, always produced better results. This was because everyone wins something worthwhile and nobody losing anything of importance. These results are exemplified in the now famous on-line “Prisoner’s Dilemma.”

What seems to be stalling this needed paradigm transition from becoming common sense in the mainstream, is the negative connotation of the word “compromise.” It is often viewed as sign of weakness, defeat and surrender, when just the opposite is true, as Andrew Carnegie wisely points out in the above quote. Given the intensity and urgency of today’s conflicts, the old model of competition resulting in definitive winners and losers, is having too much of a toll on impeding real progress in resolving seemingly unresolvable conflicts that somehow must be resolved creatively.

The “how-to” creative resolution of our most difficult conflicts in life—between me and myself, me and you and us and them—is in viewing compromise as the most viable and desirable solution. But this takes courage, egoless open-mindedness, thoughtfulness, tenacity and optimism to dismiss the prevailing negative connotations of the word.

The main stumbling block to embracing compromise is fear that this model will hinder us in being able to do something we all want to do—to have our cake and eat it too. This is a paradox where compromise is the only way to undo being held hostage by the words that point towards the escape route. We can all have our cake and eat it too, but only when we begin to see that we have created extreme, unwinnable polar opposites in just about everything in life—rich vs. poor, old vs. young, good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, selfishness vs. altruism and so on. This has become an artificial reality of words.

At the end of the day there are actually many ways to have your cake and eat it too. But, there is only one way to see the possibilities and that is to not eat too much of the cake now, saving some for later. This is what compromise is all about—eating and enjoying some cake now and having some left over to be able to still enjoy it later. The fear here is that other people can’t stop eating the cake and there won’t be any left over for anyone else.

Here is a question that needs to be asked: Have we ever really been out of cake? Or is this an unfounded fear not worth worrying about? Maybe much of this fear is based on how we define “cake.” For me, my cake is the 5% gold standard I have with the principles I am not willing to compromise on, leaving 95% of the others open for discussion. This way, there are a many more win-win outcomes, than the current 50-50, win-lose odds.

It is time to expose the real culprit here, casting a big shadow against compromise. For those who are most against compromise in resolving difficult conflicts, there is an unfortunate common denominator. This is having a giant ego from great accomplishments, that has become invisible to the person because it is closer than his or her skin, only being seen by others.

I am certainly not an expert of helping others manage their egos better, but like Farmers Insurance, I do know a thing or two by seeing a thing or two. By being open to acknowledging how little we actually do have control over and by realizing the real failures we own, we have made a good start on the road to managing our egos better. At least we can begin to see how they may be inhibiting our real success and progress.

This transition from competition to compromise is becoming a raging river. The quicker you join it, the less the futile struggle to get to where you really want to be. And there seems to be hope with the author of the “Selfish Gene,” Richard Dawkins, renaming that primary “survival of the fittest” drive of everything in the universe, to the “cooperation gene.”

“A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.” ~Ludwig Erhard.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living on the scenic Snoqualmie River and mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, Re-Braining for 2000 (MJR Publishing); The Prosperity Zone (Authorlink Press); You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence); The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree); Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers); Reality Repair, (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Publish America); Thoughts on Happiness; Pearls of Wisdom: A Dog’s Tale (Covenant Books, Inc.) Coming soon: A Cliché a day will keep the Vet Away (Another Dog’s Tale). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 652-8067 or