Winning Or Losing?

Some believe living is all about being right/winning OR being wrong/losing.

This either/or perspective is exciting and fun in sports. We can root for our team or favorite athlete with passion. However, this way of thinking is destructive in conversations and when we are trying to get stuff done with others.

What does it mean to “win” in conversations? Convincing others your solution is the right one? Silencing others? Dominating the conversation? Looking good in front of your boss, peers, or constituents? Showing how smart you are?

“Winning” a conversation might mean you win the battle but lose the war. The costs can be high. For instance, a group might reach conclusions that “the losers” do not support. Relationships get damaged. Working with others to tackle the next big challenge becomes less likely. At work and in our communities, when we try to solve problems as if there need to be winners and losers, the social fabric that holds us together gets frayed and the social capital we need to move forward decreases.

If you are the boss, you could argue that people just need to do what they are told. However, when people comply vs. commit to implementing a solution, the results are rarely what one hopes for. Those who create tend to support what they have helped create. In addition, you’ll have missed the ideas of people who got drowned out while you were busy trying to “win”. Besides, when people “lose” they are less inclined to want to come to the table with you again.

I know of at least two community initiatives that failed or floundered because one member appeared to be more interested in winning than anything else. In one case, the project ended because the organizations and community members on which the initiative depended withdrew their support and participation. In the other, several board members left because they did not want to be in constant battle.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” One way to understand Dr. King’s wise words is that we must learn to talk better together as colleagues and community members or perish as fools.

For us to solve important issues, we need to move beyond ideas of wrong doing or right doing, beyond the notion that some people have to win and some have to lose. By doing this we can meet in a larger field in which we can create solutions that are more likely to be effective because they reflect people’s best thinking and because people are committed to implementing them.

Mary’s book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available.  Click here to purchase it.

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