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A compromise is the solution of a conflict by mutual voluntary agreement, with mutual renunciation of parts of the respective demands . The negotiating partners approach each other. You leave your own position and move to a new common position. The goal is a common result that they agree on. The compromise is a sensible way to balance conflicting interests ( dissent management). It thrives on respect for opposing positions and is part of the essence of democracy. Compromises can affect many areas of people's lives.

Word origin

The expression compromissum , already documented by Cicero , comes from the Latin legal language and meant there that the contending parties “jointly promise” ( com-promittunt ) to submit to the arbitration award of a third party previously called on as arbitrator. A party who does not subsequently recognize the arbitration award loses a previously deposited pledge of money.

In the legal language of the Middle Ages , an amicable agreement in a legal dispute was referred to as courage .

Conflict as a background

Behind a compromise there is always a conflict between different wishes, interests and needs. Usually conflicts arise between different people. But sometimes also inside a person (“two souls in my breast”), or between groups, organizations, states, cultures or religions. Often, supposed contradictions and the resulting conflicts are simply the result of misunderstandings. And often there is a hidden and much more essential need behind a wish or an interest. If a misunderstanding is resolved or the actual need behind the ostensible interest is met, there is no longer any conflict.

Some conflicts are distribution conflicts , for example raw materials, company profits, salary, housing etc. Such conflicts are often wrongly viewed as a zero-sum game : if one of the two gets one euro more, the other automatically gets one euro less. But maybe one euro is a whole meal for one and only a fraction of it for the other. Even more complex relationships are often mistakenly viewed as a zero-sum game and are usually unsolvable as a result. Most zero-sum games, on the other hand, dissolve when viewed in a larger context.


A compromise can be reached if neither side has enough strength to consistently and fully pursue their own goals. Or when the complete enforcement of the interests of one side is not a permanent solution. So if it is to be feared that the solution will be questioned again and again and therefore not stable or can only be maintained at very high costs on the part of the winner, then a compromise is better than "victory and defeat".

A compromise can also be the result of a situation in which one side could fully assert itself and maintain this result, but in addition to the objective to which the compromise relates, there are other conflicting objectives. An example: Country A wants 1. political rule over country B and 2. financial resources from country B. Even if country A is able to control country B completely and possibly permanently, this could lead to lower satisfaction and thus lower productivity lead in country B, which would result in reduced tax revenues from the controlled country B (weighing the opportunity costs ).

In addition to hard numbers (e.g. money, goods), social and political factors can also play a role. For example, when reaching a compromise, both sides can feel they are “saving face” - towards the adversary and / or third party.


In judicial proceedings, the parties to the dispute often reach a compromise in the form of a legal settlement . This can result from direct negotiations between the counterparties or be proposed by the court. For example, if it is foreseeable that someone will lose but the problem is not solved, or if it is unclear who will lose, but it is clear that the problem is not solved either way. The compromise is therefore intended to prevent the conflict from escalating , since the possible costs of defeat are valued higher than the disadvantages that arise from the compromise.

In mediation, on the other hand, the opponents work together to find a solution in which both win and neither lose. The aim is to be able to respect each other again. A compromise is not part of a mediation.


The collective bargaining between employers and employees is an annual example of a compromise: The wage increases agreed at the end are mostly between what the employees initially asked for and what the employers initially offered. Sometimes unfulfilled wage demands are compensated by other improvements (vacation, reduced working hours, participation). Also, overtime can be a compromise if they bring the employee a financial award and the overall working hours are compensated over the years.

Cooperation: A company offers its neighboring company to buy a system together. That saves 20,000 euros. If both are in the same situation, it makes sense to split the savings in half. A wide variety of reasons, however, can lead to the fact that something other than half-division is agreed as a good compromise.


In democratic states, but also in state associations or in the intergovernmental area, compromises are often made between political and economic decision-makers. For example, it is about fighting for or securing achieved social standards (such as the respective subsistence level ) or business interests (for example, profits , tariffs , taxes , duties and charges ).

Compromises can also be made when regulating apparently strictly opposing positions in international law , for example between two states or within a state in order to resolve conflicts , wars or civil wars, “frozen” disputes, etc. B .:

  • on the one hand, the principle of maintaining the territorial integrity of a state recognized under international law and
  • on the other hand, about the principle of doing justice to a minority's striving for independence.

A possible standard compromise in such cases is partial autonomy . Whether a corresponding compromise is made and how long it lasts, however, depends on the framework conditions. These can change.

Possible solutions

Win win

The contending parties do not always have to give up demands. A higher form of conflict resolution than compromise is the win-win solution , in which both parties to the conflict not only get what they want, but something more. For example, by pursuing a common goal together or in addition to one another. Or by giving each other acceptance, appreciation and appreciation and placing the relationship to one another in the foreground, and thus finding solutions together that they had not even thought of before.


The consensus is a common agreement that significantly more account of the needs of the participants, as it can do a compromise. A consensus resolves contradictions, including hidden ones, or it names the points that are still open and not yet resolved in consensus for all those involved and affected.

Formula compromise

A “formula compromise” is an agreement that each of the disputing parties has included their view of things or their interests in the agreement (the formula describing the situation). The conflict remains unresolved without either or both of the parties being considered losers. Formula compromises sometimes make sense to postpone a real agreement until later ( dilatory formula compromise) or to delegate the decision to those institutions that are responsible for the interpretation and application of the agreement (delegating formula compromise). It is not uncommon for the parties in parliament to agree on a law that contains a formula compromise instead of a clear regulation. If a party invokes this law in a legal dispute , the case law must decide by way of the interpretation of the formula, what the legislature probably intended for the respective individual case. An impressive example is provided by Article 15 c of Council Directive 2004/83 / EC of April 29, 2004 on minimum standards for the recognition and status of third-country nationals or stateless persons as refugees etc. (OJ EC No. L 304/12 of 30 September 2004) and the related judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Communities of February 17, 2009 - Case C-465/07 - (Elgafaji), OJ EU No. C 90/4 v. April 18, 2009.

Lazy compromise

A “lazy compromise” is a variant in which a compromise only appears to have been reached - but in reality one party has lost out and this has not been noticed or is being swept under the table. Or where you have agreed on the lowest common denominator and both tend to lose. It is not uncommon for a lack of advantages or corresponding disadvantages to become apparent later and then make renegotiations necessary.

victory and defeat

It would not be a solution if the stronger had his way at the expense of the weaker.

Different linguistic meaning

Depending on the cultural or linguistic background, the meaning of the word “compromise” and the expectations about it can differ. In England , Ireland and the Commonwealth of Nations, the word compromise means something good: you view an agreement, a compromise, as something positive that benefits both sides. In the USA, on the other hand, this term means a solution in which both sides lose. (See intercultural competence .)

Earlier perspectives in Germany

The compromise was previously branded as "un-German". According to terms or proverbs such as “the lazy compromise”, “ breaking the Gordian knot ”, “do not allow yourself to be compromised; you lose the matter, that's for sure! ”or“ Here I stand, I can't help it ”, the compromise is a matter for the undecided, the weak or the unclear. There was an alleged heroism of uncompromising, hardship, and assertiveness. Character was allegedly shown in faithfulness to convictions and firmness of principles. In contrast, the Danube Monarchy or the Habsburg idea with its principle of “ Live and let live! “By working out innumerable compromises as a supranational, balancing, exemplary mediator between languages ​​and traditional ethnicities .


In cryptology , the word “compromise” is used with a different meaning. Here it denotes the exposure (embarrassment) of a badly encrypted message, i.e. a ciphertext , which often allows its content to be broken ( deciphered ) or even the underlying cryptographic method to be exposed .


From the point of view of (Christian) ethics , concrete action must be based on ethical values ​​as well as on one's own real possibilities and the real requirements of others. Concrete decisions often require a compromise: “A willingness to compromise is not a weakness, but an expression of social responsibility; it is a required basic attitude or virtue to be practiced. "


Web links

Wiktionary: Compromise  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Lemma compromissum in Georges
  2. cf. Heribert Prantl: A cheer for the compromise. in Süddeutsche Zeitung from April 3, 2016.
  3. cf. in detail: William M. Johnston: On the cultural history of Austria and Hungary 1890–1938. 2015, p. 46 ff.
  4. Johannes Gründel : Ethos / Moral. In: Christian Schütz (Ed.): Practical Lexicon of Spirituality. Herder, Freiburg i.Br. et al. 1992, ISBN 3-451-22614-6 , Sp. 347 (349).