Compromise: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Compromise is something we do on almost a daily basis. This lesson will define the concept of compromise, and review when someone should compromise vs. when someone should not. Examples of compromises will be provided.

Jack and Diane

Jack and Diane are newlyweds and have been married for almost a year. Like in almost all new marriages, Jack and Diane are still learning a lot about each other and their habits. There is one thing that really bothers Jack about Diane, and that is her impulse buying and excessive shopping. He's gently mentioned to Diane on a few occasions that they both need to be more cognizant of their spending habits if they want to save money to purchase a home, but Diane continues to shop. Jack plans to ask Diane to compromise and stop her shopping and only purchase necessities, in the interest of buying their own home.

What is Compromise?

Compromise occurs when two parties come to an agreement by each offering to meet somewhere in the middle. In the example above, Jack is hoping that Diane will see the importance of buying a home, and will compromise by stopping her impulse buying in return. Jack is compromising in that he agrees to let Diane do some shopping, and Diane compromises by cutting the amount of money she spends on shopping. Compromise occurs in a number of situations including:

  • relationships
  • political debates
  • business negotiations

Although compromise is intended to bring about positive change, it can be negative at times as well. Let's look at both positive and negative compromise.

Positive Compromise

A common goal of compromise is to settle an issue in the best interest of everyone involved. This is referred to as positive compromise. Let's take a look at some examples of positive compromise below:

  • Aunt Ann hasn't seen her niece Pamela in years. She hears she is in town and invites her to dinner on Tuesday at 7pm. Unfortunately, Pamela has already made dinner plans on Tuesday and is unable to make it. She does want to visit with Aunt Ann, however, and asks her if it would be possible to come to dinner at 7pm on Wednesday instead. Aunt Ann wants to see her niece, and even though Tuesday was better for her, she changes her Wednesday plans to accommodate Pamela. Both parties made a positive compromise that works out for everyone.
  • Stanley is in charge of heading up negotiations in a business merger. The other company is insistent that the new joint company headquarters be relocated to another city, which will mean they will likely lose a number of key people. Both parties eventually agree to relocate headquarters, but to allow employees who are unable or unwilling to relocate to work remotely. This will help to ensure a smooth transition during the merger. Again, this is an example of positive compromise because it is done in the best interest of both companies and their employees.

Negative Compromise

Not all compromise is positive. Negative compromise occurs when one party benefits from the agreed upon solution, but the other does not, and in fact may even be in a worse position than they were before. The following is an example of negative compromise:

  • James is displeased with his wife Lori's appearance. He thinks she has let herself go over the years, and he wants her to lose weight. Lori is secure in her appearance and comfortable with her weight. One day, James approaches Lori and tells her if she doesn't lose weight, he will leave and divorce her. Panicked, Lori starts a series of yo-yo diets that cause her weight to fluctuate dramatically. She is unhappy and depressed. Lori's attempt to compromise was done out of an ultimatum presented by James and would be considered a negative compromise.

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