C’mon, Give (and Take) a Little

Ah, the classic idea of compromise. It’s the single key to having better relationships at home and work. But it doesn’t always come easily. We’ve found strategies that will make compromising feel almost like second nature.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could make all your interactions healthier and stronger? Whether with your boss, coworkers, kids, friends, neighbors, family, or spouse, you just might be able to … if you’re willing to comprise. That’s right, the key to having better relationships as an adult is a skill you probably learned back in kindergarten. The thing is, most of us lose our meet-in-the-middle sensibilities as we get older and grow fond of our set ways.

In the name of peace and harmony, it’s useful to take a refresher on how to make everyone—including you—a little happier when conflict arises. Remember it isn’t about giving up everything you want; it’s about being willing to let go of something, and convincing the other person to do the same, so everyone walks away satisfied. Here’s how.

Set your terms. The very concept of compromise means you’re not getting everything you want so figure out your must-haves. For example, if you feel like you and your spouse are on different money planets (perhaps you’re a saver and she’s a spender), don’t ask her to cut back entirely. That’s not realistic. Instead ask her to identify a handful of areas she’d be OK trimming and offer to have a joint splurge from time to time (guilt-free, of course!).

Tell a story. Research has suggested that people are more likely to respond to an idea when it’s illustrated by a good story. So if you’re trying to teach your kids to be more charitable, skip the preaching and share a specific, real-life bedtime story of how people you know reached common ground. Bonus points if the lead character in the story is you.

Pay attention to delivery details. There are lots of other small adjustments you can make when proposing a compromise to make the idea more acceptable. Avoid finishing sentences with a slight raise in your tone (also called up notes), which suggests indecisiveness. Friendly eye contact and smiling signal that you empathize with the other person and are suggesting a reasonable alternative. Oh, and yes, flattery does help. A study found that in one of the most challenging compromise situations of all—buying a used car—compliments eased tensions and were effective. Start your negotiation by skipping the car talk and first telling the owner what a wonderful family she has, the study authors suggested.

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