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The Art of Compromise
It's an essential tool for the mid-level
by Kate (November, 2003)
(Note: Kate is a mid-level manager for a major industry
The print media dedicate pages to it, talk shows chat non-stop
about it, and news broadcasts view it from all angles. What is it?
Gay marriages. Everyone has an opinion, the loudest of which are
black and white, either for it or against it. If you listen
carefully though, you will find a gray area where a small group is
pushing civil unions instead of marriage. This last group is
practicing the fine art of compromise, offering each party some of
what it wants rather than winning or losing everything.
Every office debate has two viewpoints. Actually, there is a
third Ė compromise Ė which is often forgotten or worse, not even
considered. The "winning side" is often that of the
employee in the most senior or supervisory position. At times it is
the most knowledgeable viewpoint, but just as often it isnít.
The people who are charged with actually doing the work, rather
than supervising it, are intimately aware of what is and what isnít
possible. They know their products better than anyone else because
they have created them from the ground up. They know the limitations
of their computer programs and the available staff time. The further
up the corporate ladder an employee progresses, the more removed and
less knowledgeable he becomes about the nuts and bolts of getting
the product out the door.
If you are a supervisor...
In less than six months the intricate computer programs you once
worked with have been upgraded and your knowledge of them is rusty.
Now some tasks can be done quicker while others have been slowed by
the upgrades. Within 12 months many new products have been developed
and your knowledge of how they made it through the product
development system is cursory. You know what steps were taken and
who took them, but the intricacies of how that was accomplished
escape you. After 18 months, the knowledge of who did what, how long
it took, and what steps were done in order for the process to be
achieved is foggy.
You have a knowledgeable, competent staff that does not require
micro managing, so you have been able to give your full attention to
your new responsibilities while your staff has done their job and
kept products moving. Life is good; products are being developed and
moved through the system with only minor hitches. Your bosses are
generally pleased, as are those whom you supervise.
Then "Murphy" and his laws enter stage left. A product
new to your company is being developed. You meet with your staff and
review what needs to be done, the deadlines to be met and the
outside resource people to hire. Everyone is upbeat about the new
challenge, and you leave the meeting confident and proud of your
Within a week grumblings and problems start surfacing. Before you
can even meet with your staff, the grapevine has reached upper
management which is not pleased with the costs, the deadlines, or
As middle management, you are firmly stuck between the proverbial
rock and a hard place: two black-and-white viewpoints Ė the goals
of the company and the realities of the process. Itís your turn to
find the gray area and mediate a compromise that will achieve the
best for both sides.
You have to be willing to admit to your staff that you are no
longer familiar with all of their issues (and upper management is
even less familiar), and you should consider spending time observing
and learning about the hurdles they have encountered. You need to
work with them to arrive at solutions to these hurdles. This may
include outside sources, overtime, or changes in project priorities.
Next you need to bring not only the problems but also available
solutions to your superiors in an informed, professional manner.
They in turn need to examine the entire situation and weigh the
solutions you have proposed on behalf of your staff. It's their turn
to move into the gray area and make a decision for you to pass down
to the staff.
In an ideal world, all company employees, from upper management
to production staff, will be able to shift from being adamant about
their viewpoint to being realistic about what can and cannot be
accomplished. In the real world, this doesnít happen as often as
it should as a willingness to listen and compromise is often seen as
backing down. Or "worse", it is admitting that the other
viewpoint has merit and that one doesnít have all the knowledge
necessary to make the best decision.
Itís unfortunate more people donít realize that compromise is
not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength Ė that everyone is
strong enough and confident enough to examine what is best for all
involved and are willing to compromise to make that happen.
(Note: You can read Kateís previous columns by clicking
on the titles in the right-hand column. Have any comments about
stolen designs or products? Email Kate at email@example.com.)