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What is a Compromise?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A compromise is a negotiation between two or more parties, either individuals or groups, that helps to reach a mutually agreed upon decision. Essential to the idea of a mutual agreement is that each person or group participating in the agreement must make the decision to surrender some of the things he, she, or they would want in order to hopefully get the things most desired. Compromise exists in all aspects of life: in matters of business, relationships, and so on. Even personally, an individual may have to find a middle ground with his or her desires in order to reach the most workable arrangements for pursuing a life.

In relationships, such as spousal relationships, it’s usually agreed that the ability to compromise can enhance each partner’s experience of the relationship. Since people are individuals, it’s seldom the case that two people will agree on everything. Most reasonable individuals are able to negotiate with their partners in order to give up things that aren’t important, and to get the things that are.

A couple might negotiate about the share of housework each partner will do, the way in which children are raised, or just the specific tasks each person needs to do for the day. A couple that decides one person will pick up the kids while the other stays home to do the laundry has made a compromise. Neither might particularly want either of these chores, but they get the things done that are needed so that life runs smoothly.

Conversely, couples who cannot make such agreements tend to have significant troubles. When each party in a marriage sees him or herself as entitled to more than the other party, a middle ground may be very hard to reach. If one partner is adamant about not making any concessions, the other partner must decide to either concede everything and let the partner be dominant, or to try to argue it out. Couples may spend time in therapy learning how to make concessions and to value their partners.

In business, there are many situations where compromises must be reached. Sometimes, a person doesn’t get a choice. A boss may tell an employee that he needs work done, and there’s nothing that person can negotiate or demand from the boss in return. On the other hand, a place where agreements are frequently reached is through labor negotiations. Unions and heads of companies must frequently reach mutual agreements that are acceptable to all parties.

Workers might wish greater salaries, but may have to be more shift flexible to achieve them. When two groups negotiate, both agree to take less but still to take something, often in very specific terms and through processes like mediation. Failure to reach an agreement can lead to workers who strike and refuse to return to their jobs until problems at work are resolved.

To be uncompromising is not always negative. A person with an uncompromising sense of ethics isn’t easily swayed to become less ethical. Being continually inflexible in all aspects of life opens a person up to a constant battle on many fronts, however. As a human being, it’s important to decide what areas of your life are most important, and what areas of your life, work, or relationships can be more flexibly constructed. The phrase "pick your battles" applies, as people need to decide when they can make concessions in order to avoid constant clashes with parents, spouses, children, bosses or others.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By feasting — On Jan 27, 2013

If your fiancee agrees to a compromise before you marry him, watch out! I've known too many women whose fiancees have promised to help out with housework who refused to do it when it came time.

My sister's husband worked different days than she did, so he said he would do chores around the house on his days off. She would come home and find dirty dishes and clothes strewn all over the house, and it really wore on her nerves.

By OeKc05 — On Jan 26, 2013

@Kristee – That sounds like a good compromise. These setups are fine, as long as both people hold up their end of the deal.

However, it didn't work out so well with my roommate. Our compromise was that she would wash dishes and keep the place neat if I would vacuum and do the laundry. She never did what she promised, and I wound up doing it all.

I needed her half of the rent, so I couldn't just kick her out. We wound up getting another roommate who really did help out with these things.

By Kristee — On Jan 26, 2013

Compromises are generally a little unpleasant, but they do make people feel validated or compensated. Everyone involved gets something out of the deal.

My cousin and I went on vacation together last year, and we struck a compromise. I would pay for the hotel room if she would pay for food.

I really liked this deal, because we went to several awesome seafood restaurants, and I ate for free. She told me to order whatever I wanted, too.

This was fair because the hotel on the beach was expensive. However, with the restaurant bill for three days and all the snack foods we bought on the road trip, I think everything evened out.

By cloudel — On Jan 25, 2013

I wish sometimes that I could reach a tax compromise with the IRS! I make so little but have to pay so much. It just doesn't seem fair!

I know that there's really nothing I have to offer them other than money, though. So, there are really no grounds for compromise.

By Moldova — On Dec 29, 2010

Cafe41-It is amazing how wrong some of the compromises of the past were.

For example, in 1787, the 3 5ths compromise resulted. This was a measure that was agreed upon by the North and the South.

The North only wanted to count free people when determining congressional representation. However, the South wanted to count everyone because it would be to their advantage since they were the only ones that had slaves.

A compromise of 3-5 compromise was reached. This meant that each slave would count as three fifths of a person in terms of congressional representation.

By cafe41 — On Dec 27, 2010

The 1850 compromise is also referred to as the Henry Clay compromise. Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas outlined five separate measures that allowed the inclusion of additional states to the union established this measure.

One of the measures created the territory of Utah while an additional measure resulted in the territory of New Mexico.

A third measure of the compromise allowed the District of Columbia to cease slavery, while admitting California as a free state was the fourth measure.

The fifth measure included the Federal Fugitive Slave act that provided more enforcement of fugitive slaves with harsher punishments. Although the North and the South agreed upon the great compromise it did not prevent the Civil War from developing in 1861.

By Sunny27 — On Dec 25, 2010

Bhutan-The Democrats agreed to this measure because the Republicans agreed to extend unemployment benefits for another 13 months.

Both sides gave up something that they did not want in order to receive something that they did want.

The Democrats got the extension of unemployment benefits for thirteen months and the Republicans got the Bush tax cut extension for all Americans for two years.

This is really what compromise is all about. Each party gets something at the expense of something else.

By Bhutan — On Dec 22, 2010

Anon100272-In a true compromise one party gives up something in order to gain something else leaving both parties feeling happy about some measures and a little disappointed with other measures.

For example, in the recent congressional consideration of extending the Bush tax cuts there was a lot of debates as to who should receive this relief.

The Democrats wanted only those that earned $250,000 or less to receive the continued benefit of the Bush tax cut. The Democrats argued that people earning in excess of $250,000 are considered, “Wealthy” and does not need a tax cut. They wanted to focus their tax cut efforts strictly on the middle class in order to ease the burden on them.

However, the Republicans wanted to extend the tax cuts to all income levels arguing people earning in excess of $250,000 are small businesses that provide 90% of all employment opportunities. Offering relief to this group as well would provide much needed jobs in this sinking economy. The end result was a compromise in which all tax brackets would receive an extension of the Bush tax cuts for a period of two years.

By anon100272 — On Jul 29, 2010

mind blowing article!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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