The Hidden Downside Of Win-Win And What To Do Instead


There are two common ways of thinking when it comes to business deals, agreements, partnerships or transactions. The first approach is the win-win and the second is the win-lose. It is fair to say (or hope) that most people will strive for win-win. Let’s take a closer look and examine if there is a downside to the win-win mindset.

Type #1 Thinking (I Win – You Lose):

Business leaders tend to be driven by a focus on succeeding, growing and winning. And this is a good thing. The problem occurs when their focus on winning becomes so singularly obsessive leading them to pursue business arrangements at the expense of the other party. The degree of this type of “win-lose” thinking can vary and will go something like this:

  • My goal is to win at all cost no matter how it impacts anyone else.   My job is to simply win even if the other party loses. (Bad).
  • By definition if I win (which I must) someone else must lose. It is just the nature of things. This is the zero sum game thinking; the more I win (which is always my goal) the more the other party loses. My focus is always on “I win – you lose” they convince themselves. (Horrible and non-sustainable).

The two varieties of the win-lose mindset are between bad and horrible. There must be a better way. And there is.

Type #2 Thinking (I Win – You Win):

Enter the “win-win” zone. The win-win approach involves structuring business arrangements in a way where each party come out ahead and feeling good or great about the arrangement. This is certainly a much better approach because it is much more likely to be successful and sustainable while benefiting everyone involved which is the right thing to do in the first place. While a win-win is far better than a win-lose, is there a hidden downside to always focusing on win-win arrangement? If so, what is it?

By focusing exclusively on win-win arrangements, can we become selfish by avoiding situations where we can be helpful to others without getting anything in return?

Can this be the hidden downside with win-win and what can we do instead?

The new Third Way (Happy to Help – You Win):

Indeed, an exclusive focus on win-win (while much better than win-lose) can have a downside. It can lead us to avoid giving unless there is something in it for us too. It could stop us from doing good deeds for others unless we can gain from it. It could lead to the dreaded and limiting “what is in it for me?” mindset.

Instead let’s keep our minds open to the idea of “Happy to Help – You Win” thinking. This is the mindset of abundance and giving without expecting anything in return. It is about serving, supporting, guiding, and helping others just because it feels good.

Booker T. Washington summarized it well when he said:

“Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”

In summary, let’s eliminate the “win-lose” practice while not letting the “win-win” prevent us from the “happy to help-win” mindset.