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It feels good to win–to get your way; however, in conflict situations, winning can become the only goal. That is, individuals can go beyond winning to “winning at all costs,” and such interactions have the potential to cause long-term damage.

When people look at conflict as a contest – a zero sum game where someone wins and someone loses – it becomes difficult to work collaboratively to develop solutions that improve outcomes for all. When we try to win at all costs we are essentially taking another approach – one that substitutes competition for collaboration.

Since our society is fairly competitive the winning at all costs solution becomes an easy one to follow. There are certainly aspects of a competitive attitude that can result in heightened performance and better outcomes. Yet, we find in conflict settings that trying to win at all costs actually comes with a cost.

When people feel that others are trying to get their way – no matter what – they often become defensive. They tend not to buy in to the outcome and are not helpful to its implementation. So winning at all costs can actually hurt the results and at the same time it can jeopardize relationships. People don’t like to have their interests neglected and when someone ignores them because they are so focused on getting their own way, relationships can be damaged. This is particularly problematic when the relationships extend between interdependent people who really need each other’s help now and in the future.

If you are someone who is highly task focused and who tries hard to get your way, you may want to think about whether you are exhibiting winning at all costs behaviors. If so, it would be good to slow down and think more about how you could help develop collaborative solutions that meet your interests but that might also address those of the other people in the conflict.

To facilitate developing collaborative solutions, we suggest listening carefully to the other person so you can understand how he or she sees the problem and what his or her interests may be. You will certainly want to share your own perspectives and wants. At that point you can begin to come up with possible solutions and then vet them to see if they meet your needs and also address the other person’s interests. When you find these types of collaborative solutions that work for both parties, it is generally easier to get cooperation in implementing them.