There Is No Alternative?

“If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing” – Margaret Thatcher

At the age of 24, my claim to be one of ‘Thatcher’s Children’ is tenuous. She first took office 10 years before I was born, and photographs of her leaving Downing Street in 1990 are matched by ones in my mother’s family album of me toddling around with sticky be-jammed fingers, clutching a cuddly toy by the ear. The legacy of her personality and principles, however, has shaped many aspects of the world I live and work in – not least, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel has commented, “ by asserting herself as a woman in the highest democratic office at a time when this was not yet a given”.

Baroness Thatcher was and remains a ‘Marmite’ figure, as some of the reactions to her death have shown. For the purpose of this blog, I am more interested in her comment on compromise , and how thinking on what it means to compromise has developed since the days of “Tina” ( ‘There Is No Alternative’), as the late Prime Minister was sometimes known.

One of the interesting things about working at CEDR is how the services we provide encourage you to think about how you communicate in any given situation. Ideas and metrics like the Thomas Kilmann conflict style graph, for example, challenge the idea that a person only has one mode of dealing with conflict situations. While a person may have a ‘default’ conflict style, such as an approach rooted in “I am going to win this”, it is possible and depending on the circumstances beneficial to adopt a different mindset. Sometimes exchanging concessions to reach a compromise can be a useful thing to do – and at other times, it might be worth adopting a more interests-based collaborative approach to see if it isn’t possible to ‘make the pie bigger’.

I also find the equivalences the remark makes interesting – by its logic, wanting to be liked means you will compromise, which means that you are less likely to achieve your objectives. Is this really true in every case? Compromising rather than collaborating might give you some rather than more, but equally, some is more than the ‘nothing’ Baroness Thatcher’s comment seems to want to avoid. Similarly, achieving something doesn’t mean that you can’t be liked: in fact, cultivating good relationships increases the likelihood of having productive discussions and achieving good outcomes. We can see this from Baroness Thatcher’s own life – if she hadn’t gotten to know and like Mikhail Gorbachev, they might not have been able to do business together after all.

The comment seems to embody a strong ‘either-or’ mentality – but in my time so far at CEDR  I have come to really believe that a more powerful mentality is one of ‘and’.  “How can we make sure that you and I both get what we really need? What else can we try? I hear what you say – and I understand why you are thinking and feeling this way.” Linking things with ‘and’ might represent bad grammar for some, but try saying these things out loud. Does it feel as though there’s more to share? And that suddenly, there’s more possibility?

One of Baroness Thatcher’s watchwords was ‘choice’, and I agree with her. I choose to look for ways of getting the best outcome for as many people as possible, to be a Nina – ‘Not Ignoring New Alternatives’ when looking at issues.

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