Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

The trouble with “win/win”

Just about every negotiation course and book nowadays talks about the importance of achieving “win/win” outcomes. On the face of it, this is laudable and desirable – both parties in the discussion get what they want. Both parties are happy. Both win.

Yet, I would suggest that “win/win” outcomes only go so far. I’d even declare that they can be counterproductive, even dangerous.

Imagine two people who are working together – Tom and Dick. Everything about their role, their level of experience and performance is pretty much equitable. Tom is called into see Harry, the boss, who declares that he’s decided to give him a hefty pay rise.

Is Tom happy? Sure.

Is Harry happy? Absolutely, he won’t have offered it otherwise.


Then, as the delighted Tom is walking down the corridor he chances upon his co-worker, Dick. He can’t help himself and spills the beans about his rise.

Dick then breaks into what I call “FSS” or “False smile syndrome”, declaring (through gritted teeth): “Well done mate, I’m really happy for you”

Subtext: “Bastards!”

Imagine how the third party feels and, more to the point, how his performance and behaviours may change as a result. He may become less committed and motivated, he may sabotage (consciously or unconsciously) or cause trouble etc.

This isn’t about who does and who doesn’t deserve the rise, more about recognizing that other parties may be affected adversely by such “win/win” outcomes.

I’ve heard countless stories on courses of salespeople negotiating deals with clients which then can’t then be fulfilled by the production people. In other words, everyone’s needs, interests, concerns and capabilities weren’t taken into account. How many government / private contractor deals, which will have been nice “win/wins” for both, ended up with us, the tax payers, losing out significantly, in the longer term. They may have “won” between themselves, but we sure as damn it lost.

This is applicable in all walks of life. Parents agreeing on a holiday destination without consulting the children could end up with misery for all, with the young ‘uns kicking up for the entire two weeks. Short term “win/wins” can all too often degenerate into longer term “lose/loses”!

I much prefer looking to achieve the “all win”. Taking everyone’s interests into account right from day one. This was apparently the approach Mahatma Gandhi adopted when negotiating with the British back in the 40’s. He would arrive in the negotiating room early, and sit in each seat in turn. Whilst sat there, he would close his eyes and imagine he were that person and what their needs and fears might be. Thus, he would work towards a solution that would address the interests of all parties, not just his own. He apparently had a reputation for being a truly powerful and effective negotiator.

Whenever I go on a client visit, I’ve learned not to just think of what I want, nor do I consider just what I and the other party want – I consider all stakeholders, so that a solid sustainable “all win” agreement can be struck. It never ceases to amaze me how well the meeting seems to go when I do this – especially if I take time to write down what may be  everyone’s interests on paper as preparation.

So, even if you use the term “win/win” – lets face it, it’s pretty much bedded in – think beyond just the implied bi-partheid nature of the term. The “win/win”, which may feel cosy in the short term, could come back and bite us big time further down the line.

In other words, always aim for the “all win”- thus taking the interests of every Tom, Dick and Harry into account!



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