Wins and Losses

An idea that I have come across in my own life and in several of the books I have read focuses on winning and losing, and how building consensus and compromise is the only way to move forward and truly win.  Our society focuses on always being the champion and succeeding against all odds, and in many ways this has created a society focused on binary outcomes. We seem to approach most issues in life as zero sum contests, when in reality very little is zero sum.


This mindset is perhaps best embodied by our current president, who views the world as an inherently zero sum competition for wealth and success, and the issues he has grasped onto the most ardently are ones that can easily be reduced and comprehended from a win/lose perspective. Immigration means that native born citizens compete for and lose jobs, and trade deficits are a clear indication of selling less than other nations and losing out in the profit game.


The problem however, is that almost nothing in life, especially not trade and immigration, are actually zero sum. Author Colin Wright looks at the way we often approach arguments in relationships from the simple win/lose perspective and how that view point is harmful to not just the person viewed as the loser, but also to the winner. His shift in perspective is nuanced and requires reflection and deeper thought, but understanding and beginning to view the world of relationships as more than zero sum helps us better understand other issues in society that are tempting to view as binary and black and white.


In his book, Some Thoughts About Relationships, Wright writes, “If ever there comes an argument where one person wins and the other loses, both people have lost. A relationship is weakened if there’s ever only one winner, because you’re a team working together to build something great. A loss for one is a loss for you both.” What this quote does is shift actors in a relationship from being independent of one another to being interconnected and dependent on each other. As one loses, there are a host of negative emotions that arise and a series of opportunities or perspectives that are squandered. The winner may feel successful, but they have done nothing but limit the growth they can experience with another person.


Wright’s quote aligns with the views of Bob Berg whose fictional story, The Go Giver, provides a useful allegory for understanding this concept. A main character in Berg’s story says, “Forget about fifty-fifty, son.  Fifty-fifty’s a losing proposition. The only winning proposition is one hundred percent. Make your win about the other person, go after what he wants.  Forget win-win—focus on the other person’s win.” Berge helps us understand that we can become better and find success by focusing not on what we want and winning ourselves, but instead on helping other people win. In an argument, this means not seeking out our own win at the expense of others, and not even finding a place where we both compromise and land in the middle, but rather thinking about what outcome we want, and recognizing that the best outcome is one where we both better understand the other person’s point of view, our own thoughts and ideas, and how and why we think and view the world the way we do.


The process involves putting one’s own satisfaction in winning an argument second, in the interest of being supportive and more understanding of the other person. Finding compromise and understanding leads both people to a point where they are not split 50-50, but instead are better able to understand and communicate with each other, and both feel as though they were respected and were able to express their ideas fairly and openly.

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