The Art of Compromising

Importance of compromising

In a world which appears to be saturated with conflict and discord, it can appear challenging to learn to listen, to learn to negotiate. I know that this is an issue I have faced myself on multiple occasions. I am all too easily swept up in the passion and energy which are often intertwined within the process of disagreement, and find myself shifting to anger or frustration when receiving the beliefs of those around me.

Unfortunately, I’ve found these processes often lead to argument, veering away from the once-composed expression of difference which initiated the start of the conversation. And I all too frequently realise, although usually after the fact, that my involuntary outbursts have done little to clear the air, convince the other of my beliefs or resolve the apparent divide between my views and those of the other.

Whilst doing little for my personal satisfaction, I have also found that the above method of expressing difference- through eruptions of energy, enforcement of uncompromising opinions and a strong reluctance to admit ‘defeat’- can actually result in redirverting the aim of a disagreement. Instead of actually addressing the issue at hand, our own egos can become caught up in the action; a disagreement no longer becomes an exclusive sharing of apparently contrasting views and transforms into a question of who “feels more right”. In these circumstances, of which I have observed (and participated in) many, we can focus on “point-scoring” instead of the issue itself and may even attempt to unconsciously conquer the arguments of the other, latching on to minor discrepancies whilst omitting our own arguments from the same scrutiny.

Perhaps this hinders our ability to listen, to learn, to emphasise. What would it be like if the aim of a discussion was not to subjugate the opposite points but to use the opportunity to attempt to understand?

How can we be expected to get along if we are unwilling to compromise?

Openness to Change

An aspect of disagreement that I still find difficult to address is the fact that our own conviction in our ideas is incredibly strong. So incredibly strong, in fact, that it has allowed us to believe in our ideas, to shape our worldview around them. And if we didn’t believe in our ideas on some level (conscious or unconscious), it would be incredibly difficult to justify to ourselves why we should have conviction in their validity.

So from this perspective, although a (slightly) cyclical view, I find it understandable as to why we find it challenging to place opposing ideas in an equal position to our own. If we assume that our ideas have developed as a result of our own unique experiences, it makes sense that we place a similar level of confidence in them as we do in the existence of our experiences. That is to say that our beliefs are so heavily associated with our experiences that a threat to one of our beliefs- particularly those which we may hold as integral to our entire worldview- may feel as if it is a threat to the validity of our experiences.

And since we are likely to believe our experiences to be true, it can feel unnatural to shift any beliefs which may be grounded within such experiences.

How may the strength of our belief in an idea affect our ability to change it?

In addition, we have reason to believe our ideas are “correct”. After all, as explored above, if we didn’t believe they were correct, we probably wouldn’t believe them. Even in circumstances where we may recite thoughts which we may not fully support yet still deem it appropriate to hold them as our “own”, there is hence another belief which suggests to us that doing so is the “correct thing to do”.

This opened up a number of interesting questions during my personal exploration of these ideas. For one, how would it be possible to consider other alternatives as valid even if they contradicted my own views? Should this even be something I seek to achieve? By entertaining the views of others, would I undermine my own beliefs in the process?

My conclusion, although far from a complete “solution and most definitely not without fault of its own, was addressing my own openness to change.

If my beliefs are based upon my experiences, then surely they are already subject to change. Perhaps this could be achieved quite easily: by experiencing an event which leads me to devalidating another precursor experience, I could quite rapidly change my beliefs. This could reasonably be in such a way as to dramatically adjust my entire worldview (although such a transition would likely be a challenging endeavor to undertake especially when considering how our entire worldview may be propped up by a multitude of independent ideas and theories).

For example,  if a childhood experience had suggested that a particular diet was most suitable for me (in my case, substantial amounts of pasta, tuna and pesto with very few vegetative options), I could very reasonably change that deeply held view upon reading a nutritional report of different diets, providing I had reason to believe the results of the report to be more valid than my own knowledge of the nutritional value of different foods (which in this instance was clear cut for me).

In fact, this may be a process that many of us undertake frequently without much conscious effort. Every day is a new potential to be exposed to something which may alter a previously held conclusion, whether a correction in someone’s name or the date of a meeting; the admonishment of a historical fact; or listening to a musical melody which you had unintentionally played differently to the original.

I wonder if the next step is to integrate this process into our conscious thought to be voluntarily tapped into at a moment’s notice.

This will be something I will explore in a follow-up article. I hope the methods I discover may give an indication of how to learn to compromise within our day-to-day lives.


By Isaac Husband