How to Compromise with Stakeholders

I have a friend, a fellow UX professional, who once defined compromise to me. “Compromise is when nobody gets what they want,” she said. I know a lot of UX practitioners who agree. They put it differently though. They things like “you can’t compromise with stakeholders, or it creates a poor experience.”

This makes me sad. I don’t believe it’s true.

What is Compromise?

The terrible part about a compromise is that it isn’t necessarily what you had envisioned. It’s not always your first choice. This definition assumes that there is no way to be happy if you don’t get your first choice.

I believe compromise is actually a way to fulfill both parties needs. Sometimes what the stakeholder says they want is “a portal” when you think an app is better. But if you find out why they want a portal, they are looking for a way to create a secure space. When they find out they can have a secure, (for example, HIPAA compliant) app, they’re thrilled.

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Compromise is about communication. It’s about moving behind what people¬†want or say they want and getting to what their goals are. How do they measure success? What do they need? When you know what you (or your users) need and what your stakeholders need, it’s easy to compromise.

How to Compromise with Stakeholders

Four steps to compromise with stakeholders:

  1. Empathize with the stakeholders. Come from a place of trust: believe that they want what’s best for their organization.
  2. Create a common ground. This will usually take the form of identifying measures of success, or even calling out assumptions. Find out where you already agree, and where you differ. When in doubt, you can bring things back to that common ground and make decisions based on that shared understanding.
  3. Communicate clearly. Ask questions, to learn what the stakeholders think, and why. Share research on the user, or best practices, so as to avoid opinion-based decisions and misunderstandings.
  4. Look for new solutions. Those who believe compromise results in an unhappy party are typically people who think compromise means there are only three choices: yours, mine, or something we both hate. Instead, take elements from the choices available and then create new solutions that implement those elements, or accomplish the same goals.

Compromise Can Make Everyone Happy

It’s important to remember that some people believe compromise is impossible. It’s also important to prove that idea wrong.

The only unhappiness should be when someone who believed “compromise is evil” realizes they’re wrong, since people don’t like being wrong. But they’ll be happy about the compromise. And that’s what’s important.

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