Examples of compromise include delaying gratification, splitting the difference, and giving up something you like to get something you need.
Compromise can be defined as the act of making concessions in order to reach an agreement. Usually, it involves giving one thing up to achieve something else (Soames, 2017; Grady, 2019).
There are two ways you can conceptualize compromise:
- Giving up a little of everything to keep a little of everything: You and someone else meet halfway. You give up a little, they give up a little, and everyone feels like they got a bit of what they want.
- Giving up one thing entirely to get something else: You forego something you wanted entirely, but you get something that was more important to you.
Without the ability to compromise, people could not work together towards a common goal, and relationships and businesses would be unable to function.
Distributing work fairly and efficiently within a team is a profoundly useful skill in business and everyday life.
There’s a reason your professor gives you group assignments even though every student hates them.
An example from student life may be an assignment or group project where you had to agree on which tasks would be performed by whom.
In the business world, every team leader has had to deal with this issue at some point, allocating work fairly and in a way that gets the best out of each of their team members.
2. Splitting the Difference
In a zero-sum situation, splitting the difference or meeting in the middle can be a practical compromise (Soames, 2017).
In business, meeting customers halfway might mean agreeing to shorten a contract instead of canceling it or offering them a free repair instead of a replacement.
Splitting the difference shows empathy for the other person and can help foster a cooperative atmosphere, especially when splitting an unwanted task or cost.
There are many examples of this type of compromise in everyday life you could use to show your ability to compromise, such as splitting a bill.
Being able to balance a budget shows an ability to weigh up the relative value of different things and make a decision on where resources should be allocated.
Unless you’re Elon Musk, balancing a budget is all about compromise.
Even if your only example of this is balancing a household budget, it can still show that you’re capable of taking logical steps and foregoing some benefits to ensure your goals are met.
Balancing a budget is also an excellent example of compromise that allows you to show off your business and financial acumen to a potential employer.
4. Triage for a Heavy Workload
Triage refers to the ability to choose what to do next, based on urgency. It is a form of compromise because you often have to forego some important things in order to get the most important things done.
For example, someone dealing with tech support queries may compromise on waiting times for less important tickets to ensure that business-critical problems are resolved as quickly as possible.
- The important things get done first, but
- The less important things have a longer wait time
If you’re interviewing for a position where you’ll have a personal caseload, this is a crucial compromising skill to present in your application.
Delayed Gratification is a slightly different example of compromise because it’s a form of self-compromise between your present self and your future self.
Despite this, it’s a compelling example to use in interviews because it demonstrates ambition and discipline.
A simple example of delayed gratification is getting up early and putting some hours into a side hustle, student project, or work task before you have to head to the office.
Sacrificing an extra few unproductive but comfortable hours in your warm bed for something greater shows you have grit, determination, and a will to succeed.
With a bit of searching, you’ll be able to find an example of delayed gratification in your own life to use in interviews or on your resume.
Choosing an ethical diet is an example of compromise because it shows that not every situation is a win-win. Sometimes, compromising involves deciding what’s more important to you and making sacrifices for the greater good.
For example, vegans give up what many of us take for granted because, to them, the suffering of animals outweighs the convenience of using animal products.
Other similar ethical compromises include taking a slower but less-polluting form of transport or sacrificing the convenience of Amazon to support local stores.
This type of example may be a good one to use in an interview if there is an ethical component to the company’s brand or product.
When there are limited resources, being able to come up with and adhere to a work schedule that’s fair for everyone is an excellent example of compromise.
Any parent or person who grew up with a sibling already knows this is a great way to prevent arguments.
In education, a great example of this is the library. Students can only check out books for a certain period, and some rare, valuable, or in-demand books can not be checked and must be read in the library, which ensures everyone can access them when needed.
In the workplace, this could mean printing your 1,000-page report in four chunks of 250, so your colleagues can access the printer too.
Sometimes in life, we have to say no to customers, friends, family, clients, or employees. In these situations, offering an alternative solution can turn a negative situation into a positive one if both parties are willing to compromise a little.
Imagine some hotel guests arrive late at night and will be checking out in the early morning before the hotel restaurant is open to serve breakfast.
Instead of simply refusing to serve breakfast, a concierge may ask the restaurant to prepare a small takeaway breakfast that the guests can take with them as they check out.
In this situation, a minor compromise on the part of the hotel makes a big difference to the guests’ experience.
Showing empathy towards others and making an effort to understand their position is an excellent example of cognitive compromise.
One of the best examples of this type of compromise in business is dealing with complaints.
When a customer makes a complaint, it’s tempting to dismiss them as haters, but no one wakes up one morning and decides to complain for no reason.
Complaints are a hidden opportunity for any business to see what isn’t working and to try to salvage the relationship with a customer who might be thinking about leaving.
According to Harvard Business Review, it costs up to 25x more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, so you can see why this skill is in-demand for businesses.
Sacrificing personal oversight or control over previously solo tasks is a compromise every business owner or entrepreneur has struggled with at some point.
In smaller businesses, each person usually has to wear many hats. Eventually, when the workload starts piling up, this model no longer holds up, and delegation becomes necessary to free up bottlenecks that hamper growth.
Sometimes this is difficult, especially when one person was previously solely responsible for a project. It requires compromise to let someone else take over and relinquish some control over the direction and quality of the work.
If you’re interviewing for a startup or another small business, the person interviewing you is probably going through this situation themselves.
In the current climate, flexible working is a common compromise for employers and employees.
Flexible working is a perfect example of your ability to compromise to give in an interview for a management position because it can demonstrate people management skills too.
Many employers prefer their staff to be in the office, especially in collaborative roles where there’s a synergy between staff.
However, some employees prefer working from home since it saves time commuting and offers a better work/life balance.
A practical compromise is flexible working. Maybe the team agrees to compromise, working a few days in the office and then being able to work at home the rest of the time if they choose.
For some professions, a vital part of the role includes leaving your personal beliefs out of the workplace so that you can perform your function impartially.
An example of this might be a nurse compromising their religious or moral views to provide impartial care for all their patients, whatever their circumstances.
Similarly, in the judicial system, judges and attorneys must set aside their personal views in any given case to ensure everyone has equal access to representation and justice.
An example like this is a good choice if you’re applying for a position where impartiality is essential.
13. Being a Supportive Partner
All relationships require compromise. A supportive partner knows this, and seeks to compromise in order to make sure both partners are happy.
A common example is when you’re going on a big trip. Perhaps you want to take a roadtrip across America. One of you wants to go to the Grand Canyon and the other wants to go to Las Vegas, but you don’t have time for both. To compromise, the partners agree to go to Las Vegas, but in return, they get to do whatever the other partner wants on the next trip.
Similarly, partners often have to compromise for their careers. If one partner gets a great job across the country, you might have to put your career on hold for a few years so your partner can pursue their career, but later on, you might get to move back home to continue your career later on.
14. Focusing on just One Goal
Sometimes, compromise actually means giving up on one thing entirely in order to get something else you want more – we might call this a sacrifice, which is a type of compromise.
Regularly, this means deciding what it is you really want, and deciding that the other things are going to have to be foregone in order to achieve your goal.
For example, if you want to reach your goal of having a six pack, you might need to give up on your chess club – you won’t have time to play chess because you’ll use all your spare time at the gym!
Politics is often called the art of compromise. To get things done, you need to negotiate with the other people who get a vote (Fumurescu, 2013).
For example, the president might want to pass a tax rise bill. However, several senators are worried about the impact upon businesses. So, to get the bill passed, he might have to carve out exceptions for trade-exposed businesses.
Here, the president gets his tax bill passed, but he had to give something up to get the votes he needed. This is very typical in politics.
16. Opportunity Cost
Opportunity cost is a term in economics that refers to the things you are foregoing when you choose one path of action (Presman, 2016).
A simple example is the opportunity cost of going on a gap year. There are some great positives of your gap year. You’ll meet people, have a whole lot of fun, and become a lot more worldly.
But there are costs involved in taking this great opportunity.
You’ll spend a lot of money you could have spent on a house deposit, so you’ll forego a house for a few more years. You might also forego college.
As a result, when making decisions about your trip involves making a compromise: you’re conceding one thing (a house deposit) to achieve something else.
17. Prioritizing Tasks
The simple process of prioritizing tasks requires some skill in personal compromise. It requires you to choose what is most important to you and what you can give up to achieve your important goals.
For example, each day, I struggle with prioritizing work, exercise, and meditation. Generally, I prioritize work too much, meaning I regularly skip exercise. This is unhealthy, and probably shows a weakness in my ability to achieve balanced self-compromise.
Here, we can see that structuring your day is entirely a matter of compromise – every day. If you do one thing with your day, you’re compromising something else, unless you’re able to do each in moderation.
18. Earn Out Deals
In the sale of companies, we often see that the person selling and the person buying the business can’t agree on a price. To reach a compromise, we often see a structure called the “earn out”.
This involves the seller receiving a certain amount of the sale price upfront, and the rest later on, once the business has performed well as expected.
For example, the seller might want $6 million, but the buyer only wants to pay $4 million. To reach a compromise, the buyer agrees to pay $4 million upfront, then the other $2 million in 12 months’ time so long as the business reaches some key performance metrics.
Most questions about compromise will come in the form of a behavioral interview question, sometimes known as a “show me/tell me” question.
- Describe a time when you had to arrive at a compromise
- Tell me about a time you solved a conflict between two colleagues
- Tell me a time you had to negotiate with a customer
The best way to answer these types of questions is with the “STAR” interview answering technique, in which you describe the Situation, Task, Action, and Results of the situation and your actions.
Here’s an example:
- Situation: The customer wants a refund
- Task: To make the customer happy without losing money
- Action: Offer the customer an in-store credit and 20% discount on their next purchase.
- Result: Customer returns the product and makes a new purchase that they are happy with.
On a human level, compromise is usually the best way to move a situation forward, but there are some business situations where compromise might not make sense.
Famously, the Amazon leadership program instills into their leaders not to compromise purely for social cohesion.
Here are some examples of when it might be better not to compromise from a business point of view:
- In a sales negotiation – Sometimes compromising on price is unproductive. It conditions your customer to expect a discount and cheapens the perceived value of your brand (Grady, 2019).
- In a lost customer situation – If a customer breaks a contract early to go with a competitor, it doesn’t make sense to waive any break cost fees in your agreement. The customer is already lost. There is no long-term relationship to salvage.
- Where there’s a lack of good faith – Compromise only works where both parties are acting in good faith. If you’re dealing with someone not acting in good faith, nothing good can be gained by agreeing to a compromise.
Compromise is a foundational soft skill essential at every level of business.
Luckily, you can use everyday situations from your home life, education, or career to show off your ability to compromise.
Situations such as working flexibly, splitting up tasks within a team, creating a monthly budget, and even choosing what you eat are all examples of compromise relevant to the workplace.
Fumurescu, A. (2013). Compromise: A Political and Philosophical History. Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press.
Grady, D. (2019). The Absurdity of Compromise – The Art of Resolving Conflict so Everyone Wins. New York: Hugo House Publishers Ltd.
Presman, G. (2016). A Practical Guide to Negotiation: Create Winning Agreements. New York: Icon Books Ltd.
Soames, N. (2017). The Negotiation Book: 50 Practical Steps to Becoming a Master Negotiator. London: LID Publishing.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.