One sword keeps another in its scabbard
 
02.06.2018

One sword keeps another in its scabbard

Through centuries of civilization, mankind has invented many methods of addressing contradictions, beginning with a stone axe and ending with pirouettes of diplomacy. The problem is that for all this time no universal method, which guarantees an equally acceptable result to all, has been found. The same applies to a compromise, which is to be used in the right place at the right time only.  

People knew for a long time that a bad peace is better than a good war. You can’t always fight; sometimes you have to do the housekeeping. And the housekeeping requires if not a joint effort but at least the absence of open quarrels.

However, it is easy to understand but not as easy to do. There's been too much water – and blood – under the bridge, before people learned how to come to a mutual understanding. I believe, it was not easy for the first time to concede to a partner, or worse, an enemy in order to get the same concessions in return. However, we have learned the trick! And since the time of the ancient Romans, who actually gave the world the word "compromissum", this technique took an honourable place in methods of resolving disputes.

Chess, a game that reflects life like no other, also recognize compromise (a draw) as a quite worthy end to the game. There are different situations on the chess board and sometimes it is more reasonable to end a game in agreement with the enemy, earning only one point, than to develop a dangerous strategy and expose oneself to the risk of checkmate.

Politics and business are almost completely built on the art of compromise. The explanation is simple: these areas of activity are built on continuous contradictions and conflicts, and you cannot win without the ability to manoeuvre between different interests and goals.

As any politician and businessman, I have a long history of compromises. Probably, they would not always seem rational and would not gain outside approval. But sometimes you can’t win without compromises. It often happens like this: here is a person who is not very pleasant to you and, perhaps, is deplored by others. However, he is a good coordinator, and it's extremely difficult to move forward without him. Shall you refuse to cooperate and possibly bury an ambitious project? Or shall you take the risk even knowing that some of your money will end in his pocket?

In such cases, you have to think twice if not trice weighing all the pros and cons. But can you reverse the situation once the decision is made? Sometimes you have to even take a bullet for your partner or subordinate.

History teaches us that people who are absolutely incapable of compromise tend to lose. Consider chess genius Bobby Fischer. Among his eccentricities, his uncompromising character was most noteworthy. Nothing would make him change his mind once he made it up. However, if somebody unexpectedly succeeded, Fischer would become just as ardent adept of the new concept.

They tell a story about Fischer: after FIDE decided not to allow any draws before the fifteenth move, at the nearest tournament, he offered his opponent a draw as early as on the thirteenth move. The partner gladly agreed but the arbiter intervened, reminding them that the rules do not allow this. However, Fischer completely refused to continue the game.

It ended with the chess player having a huge fight with FIDE. And in 1975, when he put forward completely unacceptable conditions for the match with Anatoly Karpov, the federation stripped him of the championship title.

What is FIDE! Fisher fought with his own country, nearly got a long prison sentence, and eventually was deprived of US citizenship and ended his days in exile. Nevertheless, this does not prevent us from remembering him as a bright personality and a brilliant chess player.

But why being uncompromising ranks rather high in the list of human merits? We cannot live a life without concessions, and persistence brings us nothing but misery.

Yes, a compromise proposal often carries a hidden trap that allows an unfair partner to get more than you agree to lose. The examples are well known.

At the end of the USSR, the country, which still had undeniable weight on the world stage, participated in the negotiations on the German unification. Our then leadership, already aware that the countries of the socialist camp could not be controlled from outside anymore, insisted on one thing only: NATO troops must remain in their positions after German unification. And, it seems, the first and only president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev even received such guarantees. Today, we can see the final result on any military and political map. The fact that our partners also went through such embarrassment is a weak consolation for us. The Munich agreement of 1939, aimed at "pacifying Germany", was supposed to ensure the security of the UK and France at the expense of betrayal of the Czech Republic. But it all went the way, which later allowed Winston Chamberlain to create his famous aphorism: "You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war."

Obviously, Western countries have learned the lesson they need from this story. I wonder whether it was in the West, or rather at Harvard Law School, where the strategy of negotiation called "win-win" was created.

In appearance, like many other ideas that came to us from the West, it looks noble and decent. It is clear from the title that this strategy assumes no losers, the winners are both sides. Its propagandists like to give an example: imagine that you decided to open a cafe in a new district. And then you have a competitor, who has decided on the same thing. He comes to you and proposes a deal: so as not to compete and lose profits, you will trade burgers and chicken wings and he will sell with fruit salads and fresh juice.

Not bad? Perhaps, you would think so: it looks like selling meat brings more profit and your competitor made an error at the start. But what if he did a preliminary research and found out that the local area is populated entirely by vegetarians? You will simply be left without a market before you grasp the situation and change your cuisine.

Therefore, when facing a "win-win" strategy, my advice to you is: make sure that you are not being robbed.

But, of course, this is a joke. The harsh reality is that by agreeing to a compromise, you should always know exactly your position and how far are you willing to yield. However, it is also necessary to remember that a compromise is only a tool of strategy. And it should be used only when it is really necessary. Moreover, a compromise is often the worst thing you can do. This was proven to me more than once.

The truth is that no compromise completely resolves the contradiction that caused it. You simply postpone taking more stringent action. Sometimes a long enough time passes, and the problem is resolved by itself. But sometimes it’s quite the opposite.

Basing on my long and active career, I made the following conclusion: even if you made a compromise and yielded, this does not mean that the status quo is fixed forever. Much depends on how the partner or opponent acts. The status quo can be changed at any time.

There are things that you can never forgive. There are principles that you cannot compromise. You cannot forgive malice and betrayal. It is dangerous to encourage scoundrels who act on your behalf.

No agreement can serve as a protection for those who use it in bad faith. It is important to remember that compromise is not the only tool for resolving contradictions. The sword does the job just as well. It is important to keep it always at hand.