Updated: Jan 31
Compromise can be instrumental in building relationships, settling disputes, and letting go of expectations that are no longer serving a relationship. However, there are indicators that can help you identify when you've compromised too much and have potentially reinforced a paradigm with a person or a group that holds you back from pursuing your personal and professional goals.
Whenever you are deciding whether to commit to a new relationship, like a new hire, vendor, client, or partner in business (or any other key relationship in life), an effective practice to prevent a future full of disappointing concessions is to communicate your non-negotiables up front (and put them in a written agreement where applicable). Whether contractually or not, when you lay out your true bare minimum expectations clearly, and the other party is not in agreement, you have the power to decide not to commit to the agreement and walk away - the most important leverage in any negotiation, which can save you from a world of frustration, anger, and regret.
However, if you are already in an established relationship with someone and feel as though you are giving up or giving in too often, here are some questions to help you determine whether or not it's time to renegotiate your agreement or reevaluate the commitment itself.
If you answer "yes" to any of the following, it is a sign that compromising with others might be compromising your growth and well-being:
1. Have you set the bar too low, or not at all?
When you take a minute to think about the expectations you have set and communicated in the relationship, and you realize that you have set the bar way too low (or not at all), you have an opportunity to raise it. If you are constantly wishing that someone would live up to your expectations, but haven't openly communicated your real expectations, there is a good chance that you are compromising your must-haves.
The good news is that it could be as simple as having a two-way conversation about both of your must-haves in order to arrive at a more suitable reciprocal agreement that energizes your daily interactions, enables productivity, and creates a win-win situation. Don't settle for what you think you can ask for or expect based on prior experiences, stories, or other people's opinions - set that bar where you want it to be so that you open the door to the possibility of getting what you actually want. At the same time, be ready to meet some of their must-haves and be decisive about your must-haves versus demanding that someone do everything you want at your whim - a moving target of expectations is almost impossible for anyone to meet.
2. Have you deprioritized or lost sight of your goals or values?
If your time and attention are consistently diverted by someone else's needs, particularly if their needs are not aligned with your values or goals, compromising has likely become dangerous. If you have not clearly defined and communicated expectations and/or if you need to renegotiate expectations, refer back to the "setting the bar" conversation described in number one above as a way to recalibrate. However, if there is a clearly defined and acceptable agreement in place, and somehow the boundaries have blurred, it's likely time to reinstate the original agreement and identify how to get things back on track.
If you have lost sight of your goals or values, it is critical to reacquaint yourself with them, recenter yourself, and firmly ground yourself in your desires and non-negotiables before having any meaningful conversations. And before you place blame on anyone else for getting off track, be sure to check in with yourself about where you might be self-inflicting compromise unconsciously and allowing tasks and influences into your life to distract or even sabotage yourself. Taking action that brings you closer to what you really want in life takes focus, conviction, and courage.
3. Are you making excuses or picking up the slack?
If you often find yourself covering up dysfunction by picking up the slack or making excuses for someone else's unmet promises, this is another sign that you have compromised too much. Make no mistake, compassion and generosity are incredibly important in times when someone's health or well-being is compromised, but if someone's resonating level of energy, attitude, or priorities are consistently impacting whether they are able to make good on agreements you have made with them and there is no end in sight, the situation is unsustainable and needs to be addressed. In these cases, you must also have self-compassion and set a limit on when enough is enough.
Typically, confronting any of these pitfalls is not easy and takes confidence.
Typically confronting any of these pitfalls is not easy and takes confidence. Where you can find confidence is in the certainty that if things remain as they are, and you continue to over-compromise, your health and future are at stake. Even daily mini-compromises can add up to huge losses and setbacks in your personal growth and well-being.
And when it comes to contractual relationships that are turning problematic, don't hesitate to seek qualified legal advice - the expense may not be pleasant, but it can prevent a costly waste of time and energy or worse - an even more expensive legal battle as issues escalate.
Preventing the escalation of issues within a relationship takes incredible awareness and self-leadership. Wishful thinking that things will magically get better in a working relationship because you really like someone or want to give them the benefit of the doubt is such a common pitfall - if any of the above signs are popping up, you are now aware, can face the issues, and either reset the direction of a wonderful reciprocal partnership or move on.
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Andrea MacKenzie, Founder of Lead With Harmony, is an MBA, multi-certified coach, Kolbe-Certified consultant, and leadership and team-building expert with over 20 years of combined experience in corporate roles and business consulting. Andrea enjoys working with growth-oriented business owners and executives who advocate for the advancement and well-being of the people they serve, hire, and inspire.