What “Win-Win” Isn’t

What “Win-Win” Isn’t

I don’t look at business as a zero-sum game. I don’t. I’ve never seen it play out that way… I think you innovate and you add value, deliver value… and you get value back from the world.
– Marc Benioff


Businesses and industries are more interconnected now than ever before. Once upon a time, competitors and business partners engaged in cutthroat negotiations that would result in a clear winner and a loser; that was the name of the game. In today’s interconnected, interdependent economy, though, this win/lose approach is akin to sitting contentedly in one end of a boat and watching the people at the other end bailing water out. We might be glad for the moment that the leak isn’t at our end, but in the long run, we’re still in trouble.

That’s why the majority of negotiations in modern business take place in the context of a business partnership. Whether the negotiating parties represent departments within the same organization or companies in a vendor relationship, there is a general recognition that both parties will be better off in the long run if the relationship remains amicable, sustainable, and mutually beneficial.

Given that environment, we can see why “win-win” negotiations have become such a big deal. More than just a buzzword, the term “win-win” represents a new mindset about negotiating, where the game is not a win/lose proposition. To succeed in the modern business world, we all need friends. And we don’t make friends by “beating” people – we make them by listening to them, by working with them, and by finding ways to meet their needs without sacrificing too much ourselves.

What “Win-Win” Does Differently

There are some outdated ideas surrounding negotiations and the “win-win” approach that can make people resistant to the concept. Usually, this reflects a misconception or misunderstanding of what negotiations are all about.

1. Negotiation isn’t a battle.

“Negotiation is war” is a bastion of the old-school mindset. Every negotiation is viewed as a struggle with an adversary, rather than a problem-solving conversation with a partner. Aggression, coercion, even threats and manipulative tactics may be deemed acceptable, because the person on the other side of the table is seen as an enemy. They are out to get you, so get them first! This approach is anathema to the win-win view that negotiations are actually opportunities to foster positive relationships, improve and strengthen partnerships, and contribute to the success of both parties.

2. Non-aggression is different from weakness.

To an aggressive negotiator, the object of the negotiation is to take everything possible away from the other party, leaving them with nothing. Any sign of conciliation, consideration, or generosity is viewed as “weakness.” In a win-win negotiation, though, it’s understood that each side has the other’s best interests in mind – which means that both sides are allowed positions of greater strength. Each can ask for what they need, and give consideration to the other side’s interests. Each party contributes to the success of the other by working together to create a mutually beneficial agreement.

3. Making concessions doesn’t mean giving away the farm.

Some people mistakenly assume that helping the other side get what they want means sacrificing their own interests and serving them up on a silver platter. The truth is that even in win-win negotiations, the Golden Rule of making concessions is that of Quid Pro Quo: we never give up anything without asking for something in return. The key to successful concession trading is to exchange items that have a higher value to the recipient, relative to the giver’s cost. We find the things they want that we can give up without hurting badly; then ask for things that would really help us, but which they can part with easily. This is how win-win outcomes are built.

4. Trust is a must.

A lack of trust is another standby of the old-school approach. In that mode of thinking, the other side is out to get us, and no one can be trusted. The truth is, though, that all relationships are built on a foundation of trust. A solid business partnership must be founded on a mutual willingness to trust in each other, and to be candid with one another. That sense of trust is necessary in order to hold a frank and open discussion about each party’s needs and interests – without which, their goals cannot be effectively met. The willingness to be honest and open with information is key to the win-win approach.

5. It’s not necessary to have a “winner” and a “loser.”

In the win-win view, negotiation isn’t a game of chess, a tug-of-war, or any other kind of zero-sum proposition. The object is not to get a bigger piece of the pie than the other guy; it’s to make the pie bigger, so there’s plenty for everyone. The idea that a business negotiation must always have a “winner” and a “loser” is an outdated concept. In a collaborative business partnership, where parties are sensitive to each other’s needs and the goal is mutual success, everyone can win.

Why Not Win-Win?

Old-school negotiators who stubbornly plow ahead with a zero-sum mindset and an aggressive negotiating approach in the new business environment often find that in striving to “win,” they – and their organizations – are the ones who actually lose. Who wants to stay in a business relationship where the other partner has no respect for your needs, aggressively pushes their own agenda, and actively works against you?

More and more, we in the business world are benefitting from a more collaborative approach that ensures that our partners, vendors, and customers share in our success, and that we share in theirs. After all, that’s what “win-win” is really all about – working together to build strong partnerships, strong relationships, and strong businesses.


Baker Communications offers leading edge Negotiations Training solutions that will help you address the goals and achieve the solutions addressed in this article. For more information about how your organization can achieve immediate and lasting behavior change that leads to bigger wins during negotiations in any setting, click here.