I am usually the first person in any room to advocate for alternative solutions to litigation. After more than two decades of navigating legal disputes, I know that litigation can be time-consuming and expensive. And one of the most often touted alternatives to litigation is undoubtedly the art of compromise. The benefits of “meeting in the middle” are championed by exasperated parents among siblings in homes across America from an early age and continue to be heralded thereafter by scholars in a multitude of arenas. But, giving it to you straight, this modern psychology that compromise is the key to solving all problems isn’t quite right. There is such a thing as a good reason to stand your ground, and knowing when to compromise and when not to can be the key to achieving your goals.
Compromise is a great solution to a short term problem or where efficiency is of utmost importance. When you have a disagreement over an arm’s length transaction that isn’t likely to repeat itself or where the actual solution is of moderate importance in comparison to a continued working relationship, a quick and efficient solution that allows the parties to move on can most easily be achieved using compromise. In this case, all parties receive some mutual benefit and save face. They give a little, get a little and continue the relationship for the long-term mutual benefit of all. The general welfare of the parties, or their organizations, will benefit from each giving in on some of their demands because the continued relationship is more important than the outcome of any single transaction.
Compromise can also be a useful tool where the parties are in a stalemate as to the merits of their positions. When both parties have equally strong positions and it is impossible for everyone involved in the disagreement to be satisfied, compromise can be the only way to move beyond the dispute.
But where the disagreement is likely to repeat itself, has emotional roots, or is based upon policy ideals, compromise is not likely the answer. In the case of an issue that is likely to resurface (for example, the alleged violation of terms of a blanket purchase order in a long-standing business relationship), a specific compromise in one instance may create unreasonable expectations the next time around, or may not be capable of repetition each time the issue arises. Moreover, if a disagreement is rooted in emotion, meeting in the middle may not address lingering resentment with one or more parties, which can lead to further disagreements and disputes. And after all, a solution that only leaves the door open to more problems isn’t much of a solution at all.
Likewise, compromise is not recommended to resolve disputes over policies and ideals. Where a clear decision as to the application of corporate or government policy is needed, an adjudicated decision may be more efficient than a compromise in the long run because it leaves all parties with lines that have been clearly drawn by an impartial third party and also gives direction to outside parties who may question the same policies in the future, thereby avoiding repetitive claims and litigation.
Disagreements among people are a part of life, and so dispute resolution is too. The key to effectively resolving disputes lies in identifying the goals of the parties and choosing the appropriate method of assistance. Where the problem is short-term and efficiency is important, compromise is an excellent alternative. But where clear rules for handling emotionally charged or long-term, potentially recurring issues are needed, investigating other means of assistance may be well advised.
If you would like more information on effective dispute resolution techniques, please feel free to contact us at (248) 477-6300. We’re here to help.
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