From Lose/Win to Win/Win

The book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective” people by Stephen Covey has a chapter about “Win/Win” paradigms. Here’s the context: If you’re negotiating some outcome with someone, how do you want the outcome to work out for you and for the person you’re negotiating with.

Of course, there are other sibling paradigms. Here are all the arrangements the book discuses.

  • Win/Win — Works out well for both parties
  • Win/Lose — You lose at the other person’s expense
  • Lose/Win — You let the other person “win” for … reasons
  • Lose/Lose — Works out poorly for both
  • Win — You just win, the other person doesn’t matter

Here is how I feel about each of those:

  • Win/Win — At least one well-intentioned, wise person
  • Win/Lose — You’re a jerk and humanity would be better off without you
  • Lose/Win — You’re foolish, weak, or have misguided values
  • Lose/Lose — Two foolish, weak, or misguided people
  • Win — You’re self-absorbed but not a jerk. Humanity is on the fence with you.

Based on these descriptions (and the title of this post), you probably won’t be shocked to know that I have often fallen into many “Lose/Win” agreements. Stephen Covey calls this paradigm “worse than Win/Lose”. So I’m worse than the people humanity would be better without. Ouch.

Here’s what he says:

People who think Lose/Win are usually quick to please or appease. They seek strength from popularity or acceptance. They have little courage to express their own feelings and convictions and are easily intimidated by the ego strength of others… (it) means being a nice guy, even if “nice guys finish last.”

Covey goes on to describe he consequences of this thinking:

…Lose/Win people bury a lot of feelings. And unexpressed feelings never die: they’re buried alive and come forth later in uglier ways… disproportionate rage or anger, overreaction to minor provocation, and cynicism are the other embodiments of suppressed emotion.

While not all of these description apply to me, some do! I’m sure that may be the case for you as well.

So how does one transition from Lose/Win to Win/Win thinking?

There are a couple ways that jump out to me:

  1. Values based decisions. (Who do you want to be?)
  2. Take your character further. (How can I move past superficial selflessness?)

Who do you want to be?

Make a list of the kind of person you want to be. Seriously. This is important because when you’re pressured or confused, this list will tell you how to respond. If your decisions are made from the mindset of the person you want to be, you will always be able to look at each decision and take some pride in it.

Decisions made from your values are decisions you can live with.

Some competing voices might argue that noble goals like gentleness and being above-reproach are incompatible with negotiations or resolutions. Actually, those who possess those traits are in control. Here are some quotes that inspire me.

Some say gentleness is a cop-out for being weak. I say…

“Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.” 
 — Leo Buscaglia

Some say you need to cut corners to succeed. I say…

The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. — Proverbs 28:1

A note to the Christian brothers and sisters

One of the most influential books I’ve read is called “The Peacemaker” by Ken Sande. It’s a conflict resolution guide based on Biblical principles.

The first step of this book comes to mind frequently: “How can I glorify God in this situation?”

The neat thing about this is that the pressure is off. Since our whole purpose in life is to glorify God, then it follows that if you’ve done this, you’ve done well.

Isn’t it encouraging to know that you can walk out the door knowing that your ultimate success in God’s eyes is not dependent on other people at all?

Ok, but what does it mean to glorify God? That is an age old question, but here are some favorite Bible verses I like to mediate on:

Take Your Character Further

Now that you know the kind of person you want to be, you should take a hard look at what you consider to be true.

We’ve all heard that if you help a hatching bird out by removing the shell on its behalf that you are really doing the bird a disservice. Were you trying to be nice and helpful? Of course, but sometimes the nice and helpful thing isn’t as nice and helpful as we intended. So it is with other noble traits. They can be miss-applied.

These are some key reasons why well-intentioned people settle into the “Lose/Win” paradigm:

  • It produces harmony and avoids conflict
  • I want to be liked
  • Promotes a healthy environment
  • I want the other person to do well

See the above list? It’s not entirely true because some goals are in conflict.

Let’s look at point one. Harmony good. Conflict bad. Right? Riiight? Wrong! Conflict is not inherently bad. Conflict is an opportunity to produce a deeper harmony, stronger relationships, and better results.

If we’re honest the second point three is the truest of them all: “I want to be liked”. It’s nice to be liked. There’s noting wrong with that. While being liked might be the strongest motivator in the bunch, it’s not more important than the final two points: promoting a healthy environment and wanting the other person to do well. Your character agrees with with that. But before your mourn the loss of your “well-liked” status, keep in mind that in the long run, you will be more respected and admired if you maintain a “Win/Win” attitude.

If those first two points are driving your thinking, you can’t truly be claiming to be committed to creating a healthy environment and wanting the other person to do well.

Why not? If the other party is a “Win/Lose” thinker, you will either let them continue to be the aforementioned trash that humanity is better off without. If they are just a “Win” thinker, you enable them to hurt others like they have you like the bull in the proverbial china shop. If they are a “Win/Win” thinker you’re cutting them off from realizing their desire to help you succeed. Of course, if you’re in a race to the bottom with another “Lose/Win” thinker, then that’s a person you want to be building up and encouraging. In all scenarios, the environment suffers.

After taking our character further, we realize that our list can be simplified. This is what we want:

  • Promote a healthy environment
  • The other person to do well

The only way to do this is to think “Win/Win”.

If you have an ounce of modesty, you’ll be able to come up with a host of reasons why you don’t deserve to “Win”. I’m not suggesting that you do deserve anything. You might not.

I’m suggesting that you turn your muddled-thinking and clumsy strategy into a clear purpose. Ask yourself: How can I set the other person on a course for long-term success? How can I create an agreement that, if other parties repeated elsewhere in the environment, would have a positive effect?

Powerful Leverage

What if “Win/Win” isn’t looking like a possibility? Covey points out that “No Deal” is a perfectly valid option. No one says you have to reach an agreement. If we are true to wanting the other person to do well, a “No Deal” can help them out in many of the same ways that a “Win/Win” deal can.

The author Bob Goff looks for some role/responsibility to quit every Thursday. You need far fewer agreements and commitments than are available to you. And you’ll manage your existing commitments better if you have fewer of them overall.


Good communication is not explaining your thoughts well. Good communication is making clear all the things you should be explaining.

It’s helpful to let everyone involved know your line of thinking in attaining your desired result. Literally say the words “win/win”. Say “I’m looking for a win/win scenario.” That focuses both parties and lets “Win/Lose” thinkers know you’re not approaching the negotiation from the mindset of “how much will I cave?”

Thanks for reading!