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Going from win-lose to win-win in conflict

You probably recognize this person—you know, the one who locks into a position and doesn’t budge. The person who has the “I’m right, you’re wrong” approach, is tenaciously stubborn-even if they KNOW they’re wrong! Someone who can become belligerent and resort to threats if they don’t get their way.

Of course, that’s never us, right? Ummm…well, despite our best intentions, faced with a conflict and with the right conditions, we can become this person. From time to time, we dig in our heels, get stubborn and fight to get our way.

Rather than avoiding or ignore those times when we don’t act in our “higher” self, let’s talk about when we get into a conflict with someone and we find ourselves focused on winning—and not just winning, winning at all costs. How can we change our behavior and get a better result?

Ready? Let’s go.

Why winning shouldn’t be your goal in conflict

In our leadership workshop, The You Turn: from Conflict to Collaboration, we explore constructive behaviors that reduce conflict and the destructive behaviors that can get in the way of managing conflict. One destructive behavior is winning at all costs—arguing vigorously for our own position. It’s when conflict management becomes a zero-sum game.

But let’s be honest. Doesn’t it seem like it would be the right move sometimes? Given the choice, who doesn’t prefer winning over losing? Feels great, doesn’t it? Remember, though, for every winner there’s a loser who isn’t so pleased with losing. In fact, they can think you’re a bit of a bully who had to get his/her own way.

Winning at all costs is a bad strategy in a conflict. It damages relationships and causes people to withdraw from us.

Our relationships are an ecosystem, thriving on give and take. We need relationships to be productive. Said differently, when we help others succeed, we succeed as well. You want people to be “on your team”—especially, when they’re on your team!

When workplace relationships are strong, people feel comfortable voicing their opinions—and a diversity of opinions leads to better solutions! Teamwork is essential to embracing change, creating and innovating. And all this group success ensures high morale. People like working with each other!

But, if you or someone you work with resorts to winning at all costs during a conflict (“my way or the highway,”) no one wins!

Winning at all costs also destroys trust. Trust the foundation of all healthy relationships. When we act towards another person with a winning-at-all-costs approach, we can be perceived as selfish and unreasonable. We can become isolated, without support, because others don’t feel safe around us.

In fact, it’s not unusual for retaliation to be an outcome of this kind of behavior. You push, then they shove back…and it escalates and escalates.

From Win-Lose to Win-Win

I am a staunch believer that we cannot change other people. Rather, we are responsible for ourselves and our actions. So, if you find yourself in a conflict and suddenly you are trying to win at all costs, what can you do?

Let me introduce some strategies that can turn the conflict into an opportunity for collaboration:

  • Identify what you need versus what you want To overcome winning at all costs, early in the conflict identify your fundamental goals: What do you really WANT versus what do you NEED? Let’s be clear. You don’t need to give up what is essential to you. However, we must define where we are willing to compromise based on what is essential versus what may be unimportant.

  • Pay attention to body language Be aware of appearing aggressive with your body language and vocal tone. Ask questions in a gentle manner. Breathe. Relax. Take a break if you need to. Get yourself in a good place mentally and physically where you can respond, not react. Never resort to threats in any form.

  • Be flexible During the conflict, resist the urge to dig in your heels. Instead, open your mind. Practice constructive behaviors such as Active Listening and asking questions to understand the other person’s point of view. (See: Bring a Beginner’s Brain to Conflict) You can express flexibility by using phrases that open the door to options instead of conclusions. Examples might include, “I think,” instead of “I know,” or “one possible approach is,” instead of “this is the only way.”

  • Look for compromise When we argue for our position, we often emphasize “ME” so much that “WE” is overlooked. Take the initiative to reach out. Ask what’s the most important thing for them? What or where are they willing to compromise? Find common ground. Seek solutions that work for everyone. Remember, you’re looking for a win-win, not a win-lose. Keep reminding yourself that what you want and what you need are two different things. This can help you stay open to other ideas.

  • Change the direction Finally, when faced with a conflict, remind yourself that it’s not “me against you,” but instead it’s “us against the problem.” One thing that works for me is to imagine (or physically position) the other person standing next to me, shoulder to shoulder. We’re looking forward together outward (not inward) because the problem is “out there,” not “in here.” If you can’t find a solution, at least agree to disagree. Don’t make it personal.

Wrapping Up

I’ll bet most of the time, we can stay open minded and seek solutions when in a conflict. But for those times when we find ourselves fighting for our way, seeking to win at any cost, there is a way out. Instead of “digging in,” let’s dig ourselves out and focus on working together to find a solution that everyone can get behind.

The You Turn: from Conflict to Collaboration is an online leadership development course. Utilizing the Conflict Dynamics Profile®, participants explore and apply practical behaviors scientifically proven to reduce conflict. Want more information? Let’s talk.

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