Interesting term when one stops to look at it a moment: getting along. To get is to have or hold or receive something, but what are we getting? Along means to move ahead on some type of path. When the word was created the idea was that it was to take and, and long, and push them together into one word. So essentially the word means that you have found a way to continue to move forward.
Of course, the fancy word for this is diplomacy. This is when we take two or more perspectives that are in deadlock and they are jostled and realigned and adjusted so that all of the parts that can align, do align. This creates a greater unification of needs and that removes friction and that’s what gets things further along. So with people you like and enjoy, you simply go. But with people you find challenging in some way, some getting along is required.
In school it’s easier to align yourself with people like you because you have so many chances to mix and there’s so many of you. But at work you’ll often be in smaller teams, so figuring out when to concede and when to hold ground is more difficult because you can’t just join another group. And at work your boss won’t give you a low grade–they’ll fire you. At work the problem might even be with your actual boss.
A lot of people were raised by a parent to start off with demands. But if everyone only made demands how would anything get anywhere? Obviously everyone has to enter into a negotiation or discussion or debate with the idea of some concessions automatically built into the premise of the meeting, otherwise you’re just re-meeting to re-express previously stated demands.
Negotiation, debate and discussion require flexibility on everyone’s part. When things are stuck, what people get through some concessions is… along. They can back away and keep things as they are, or they can move forward by trading absolutes for acceptable losses.
I’m not sure if they still do this there, but I’d been told while living in Budapest that one of the nearby governments (Czech maybe?) had a process whereby unions and companies had to submit a closed, fixed bid on their arrangement. Then three judges would pick one of them, without alterations. I suspect the story is true in some way because, in principle, what would happen for most people’s minds is in alignment with what the storyteller told me, and that is that invariably the two sides would make extremely similar offers, which just goes to show they both knew where starting from extremes would lead anyway.
We don’t need to be forced to do these things. We don’t need to be left with no options before we consider another path. When we’re in conflict with someone else’s needs, rather than our own objectives, we’re better to share the objective of getting along. That means instead of finding a statement that represents your own interests, you state something that moves things forward; something that leads towards peace, or cooperation, or openness, or eventually, agreement.
Interestingly it appears around the 1700’s before someone puts get and along together to form the notion of moving forward in unison, and that is sometimes referred to as living harmoniously. That’s a good term, because in a harmony everyone still has their own individual note; everyone’s just made some adjustments so they blend well with others so that the whole can equal more than the sum of the parts. And that’s the secret. Adding each individual position in any conflict will not total as much as if each part surrenders something to a larger whole.
Next time you’re in conflict, spend less time asserting your position and more time looking for ways to align it with the opposing views. Sometimes it’s true, it cannot be done. But far too often people fail at finding a compromise simply because no one was willing to compromise on principle. Winning might get you everything. But compromise does get everyone something.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.