I Win, You Win, Everybody Wins

The process of coming to an agreement is commonly called negotiating. Negotiations can be large or small but they all have consequences, especially human consequences. Although negotiating is usually connected with business and government, we all do it every day. Parents and their children negotiate, teachers and students negotiate, spouses negotiate, brothers and sisters negotiate and speeders might even try to negotiate with the policeman. During the last week or so you probably had several negotiations. How did you go about reaching those agreements? What were the outcomes of those negotiations? Negotiated agreements usually fall into three categories. They are:

Lose-Lose in which the decision results in everyone being a loser. For example, you own a business and I work for you. I ask you for a large raise in salary. You honestly tell me that the business is just making money to survive and you cannot afford my raise. You tell me that my raise would cause the company to go out of business. I demand the raise anyway because I don’t believe you and I have a key position in the company. Contrary to your better judgment, you give me the raise. In a few weeks the company has to go out of business. We both lose. I lose my job and you lose your business. Most lose-lose negotiations result from a lack of trust, a lack of information, rigidly held positions and/or not predicting long-term consequences.

Win-Lose in which the decision results in someone winning and someone losing. Races, games, trials, voting and awards are all good examples of when one person or group wins and the other person or group loses. The winners are usually happier and the losers are usually unhappier. In any game the winners and their fans are usually happier than the losers and their fans. When awards are given, the winners are happy but their losing competitors are usually not so happy. Any time there is a competition there likely will be one or just a few winners and a lot of losers.

An everyday example of a win-lose situation is a brother and sister who find the last apple in the refrigerator. Both want the apple. After a lot of arguing they finally agree to flip a coin to see who will get the apple. They flip the coin and the brother gets the apple. The sister loses and gets nothing.

Win-Win occurs when all parties in the negotiations get all or at least part of what they want and are happy with the results. An example of this kind of negotiation is the ideal economic transaction where both parties exchange goods and services and they are both happier as a result. If you want to sell me your car for $10,000 because you think it is worth that amount and I agree to purchase it because I think your price is fair, then you and I are both happy. We are both winners.

Remember the brother and sister with the last apple in the house? If they used a win-win approach to their problem, they could either split the apple in half and both could be reasonably happy. Or they might agree that the sister gets the apple now and give her snack tomorrow to her brother. Maybe they could negotiate a deal whereby the brother gets the apple and the sister gets a peach which she like just as much. There are many ways these siblings could negotiate their problem if they start with the ideas that both should win as much as possible. They would avoid making it a competition.

It makes sense to try to negotiate in such as way that everyone can be a winner, at least to some extent. It really isn’t a difficult process but it is difficult to break out of the habit of thinking that someone has to win and someone has to lose. There are three basic steps to working out win-win agreements. They are:

  1. Find out what the other side really wants. Very often it is difficult to know what the other side wants because they believe that a negotiator should hide what the real goal is.
  2. Know what you really want. What is your goal? What are you willing to settle for? What are you willing to give up? Do you possibly want to win just for the sake of winning?
  3. Devise a way that you and the other side can come to an agreement whereby you can both get what you want or a good portion of what you both want. This is where your creativity comes in. The first difficult part is to avoid terms like “winner” and “loser.” If the parties can agree that the goal of the negotiation is to have everyone win, then there are usually many creative ways to bring this about. You can have an intense, interesting, exciting and rewarding experience finding mutually beneficial outcomes to your problem. It becomes a challenge rather than a fight.

Some characteristics of win-win negotiations are:

  • The people involved try to defeat the problem at hand, not each other.
  • There is no human opponent. The opponent is the problem.
  • Those involved see themselves working together for their mutual benefits.
  • Honesty and trust play major roles. The traditional way of negotiating is to start the negotiations by overstating what you want, then begrudgingly conceding every small point as the negotiations progress until you get down to what you are willing to settle for. Win-win negotiating relies on everyone stating honest and realistic goals to build more trust that leads to a more cooperative environment.
  • Win-win negotiations involve compromise. It is common practice to give up part of what you want to get part of what you want. For example, a husband who wants to go bowling one night a week knows that his wife will have to take care of their children by herself on those nights, so he offers to take their children by himself on another night so his wife can go to the gym to workout.
  • Compromise does not mean a 50/50 split. Many people automatically believe that a compromise means the final result will be half-way between the two initial positions. For example, if you and I didn’t have any money for lunch and a kind friend gave us one turkey sandwich and an orange, we now need to decide or negotiate how we will divide our lunch. The first thing that probably would come into our minds would be to split the sandwich in half and the orange in half. However, if we talk about our wants, we might discover that you don’t like oranges that much and that I am a vegetarian. Now we decide that a better win-win solution would be for you to have a slice of bread and the turkey and I take a slice of bread and the orange. We are both happier with our creative solution but it wasn’t a classic 50/50 split. Two little kids might share the last piece of cake by one taking the icing and the other taking the cake. One of the most enjoyable aspects of win-win negotiating is being creative and imaginative in seeking mutually agreeable solutions.
  • Win-win negotiations are built on empathy. Empathy is simply trying to understand the problem from the perspective or viewpoint of the other side. Understanding the other side can lessen the feeling that they are the enemy to be defeated.
  • I know that many who read this will berate it. They think it is not the American way to seek win-win. They, especially men, see themselves as tough, they have been taught to act tough and they have been taught that they must win; sometimes at any cost. They use football and other sport analogies to characterize negotiations. They will “fight” the other side. They have to “block” their “opponents” from getting what they want. They will use brute force as a first resort rather than as a last resort. These people will probably see the win-win approach as utterly beyond their comprehension. Realize that they will probably never be cooperative participants in win-win negotiations. This is unfortunate but true. If you encounter them in your negotiations, try to explain the three outcomes of negotiating and the advantages of win-win. Maybe you can get through.

    We all negotiate. Every time we negotiate, we have the choice to work for agreements which can result in all of us losing, some of us winning and some of us losing, or all of us winning. I would like to have everyone win as much as possible. I know that’s they was I would want others to treat me.

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