Recently, I’ve encountered something that I’ve found unsettling. Compromising seems to be something that we equate with failure. In fact, people would rather watch something fail – even things they say they value – rather than take ownership of the change needed to make it succeed. I couldn’t understand why the current environment seems to promote and all-or-nothing approach in how we deal with other people, the management of processes, or the allocation of resources. I brought this up with a group of my peers, and I got a very insightful response from one person in the group.
She told me that when it comes to change, most people do not want to be seen as the owner of that change. In fact, they would rather make unreasonable demands in an attempt to keep the status quo, and let it fail, than compromise and be seen as the owner of the change. By asking for the status quo to continue, they can argue that they tried to make it work… and that the failure was on the other side for not meeting their demands. Their hands are clean and the blame lies with the other side.
I understand that this is scratching at the surface of the overall issue, but it did make a light bulb turn on in my head. I had, naïvely thought that if something is valued, people would work to ensure it continued to exist. Even if it meant changing it, or reducing its overall impact or reach. However, I am finding out that this is not as prevalent as I believed. I have to say that I am somewhat disheartened by this because I really do think that opposing sides are usually closer in coming to an agreement than they think, and that an honest, open conversation and negotiation can create a win-win situation for everyone. These days, “Win-Win” seems to have given way to “Zero-Sum Game.”
Of course, in the current social environment, it is easy for each of us to pick a side. It’s easy to find like-minded allies, and listen to the echo-chamber of those who think a certain way. It is much more convenient to turn others into rivals and view them as ignorant than it is to listen, understand, negotiate, and compromise. The challenge of that scenario isn’t so much finding a way to meet in the middle as it is knowing that you have to go back to your allies and convince them that taking anything less than a full victory isn’t just another way of accepting failure. When you live in a rigid environment which wants to speak with one voice, you find it much harder to speak with your own unique voice.
It takes real courage these days to step up and take ownership of change. It means challenging and convincing others that there is a value in making the change. I had a Political Science professor once tell me, “you’re not as far apart from your political adversary as you think… and you’re never as close to your political allies as you believe.” Sometimes the biggest challenges come not from those you think are against you, as from those who you think are with you.