It happens all the time – you have an answer in mind and someone else in your organization has a different idea. That’s the essence of Today’s Challenge: When should I compromise?

The term compromise has a negative connotation for many leaders, understandably so. Often, when we encounter an impasse to reaching a solution involving other people, the compromise is to ultimately reach a decision neither party really likes.

So, rather than compromise, I always prefer a different path. I don’t even know if it has a formal name. I’ve heard it referred to as “Triangulation.” The idea is from the world of navigation – if you know two points, you can calculate the third. In this context, the third point is the goal.

Let’s review the basic premise: if you think of a problem as having only two solutions  — each on either end of a continuum, any movement toward the other solution is a move away from your desired outcome. Therefore, the answer cannot found on the continuum – it is in another dimension.

Although you can find countless examples of this idea in practice, the most elegant one I’ve heard came from William Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes.  Here’s my version of his example:

Imagine you’re negotiating for lemons. There are a total of four lemons. You want all four and so does the person you’re negotiating with. Most of us would be satisfied to walk away with 2 of the 4 lemons. However, there may have been a third option – the point I called triangulation.

Suppose you learn the other person needs the juice of the lemons to make lemonade and you need the peels to be grated and used for cooking. Now, can you imagine a different solution? That’s the power of triangulation! It’s not always possible, but I believe it is always worth the time and energy to explore.

How do you find this often elusive third solution? Here are a few simple ideas that may help:

Listen first – One of the traits I’ve observed over the years among many leaders is a belief in the value of our own ideas. Confidence is good – arrogance and an unwillingness to listen are not. Ask questions. What are we really trying to accomplish? What is the other person really trying to accomplish? As Stephen Covey advocates, seek first to understand.

Invest time – Obvious answers are easy to find. Win-lose scenarios frequently present quick alternatives. The type of solutions we’re talking about often take time to find. It’s like mining for gold or precious stones; you have to move a lot of dirt and rock to unearth the prize. Time is often the price you pay for innovative third place solutions.

Be creative – Your highest-level solutions require your highest levels of creativity. Albert Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Practice your skills of creative thinking to identify solutions you’ve not previously envisioned.

Compromise is not the worst thing that can happen to a leader. Giving up something to gain something is part of our world. However, when you can find a better answer – a solution everyone will benefit from, you know you’ve had a very good day as a leader.[GLS_Shield]

Author: Mark Miller

Mark is a business leader, author, communicator, photographer, husband, and father. He spends his time helping leaders grow.