Are Your Relationships Too Competitive? Try Shifting to Win/Win

Learn here why a win-win relationship is important and how to create one.

Are you feeling resentment with your family? Do you often find yourself “taking one for the team” and getting the short end of the stick with your friends? How do you build a long-lasting relationship with your romantic partner? Are you finding it difficult to collaborate with teammates at work?

We are built for relationships — that’s what gives our lives purpose and meaning. So cultivating good relationships is a key for our flourishing. And cultivating good relationships means finding ways to navigate conflict well.

One way we can manage conflict begins even before we enter a situation with differing opinions. It involves developing the habit to think win/win, which simply means that the only way to win in a disagreement is if you both win. This mindset is such an important one that Dr. Stephen Covey has identified it as one of his 7 Habits of Highly Successful People

Let me explain more. When we encounter someone with different convictions, there are only six possible results. Only a win/win approach leads to mutual flourishing.

Win/Lose or Lose/Win

These situations are the most common, where one party wins and the other loses. Many people think that “compromise” is a way for both parties to win, but that’s a farce.

Being the person to win in the win/lose situation feels good. We beat someone and we won. Consider a time where you were on the losing side. This lose/win situation sometimes happens to us without us realizing it until it’s too late, and it feels terrible.

This is not the right mindset to have when entering a situation where you’re trying to build a relationship with others. Even if you win, your relationship loses because the other person gets shorted.


When two stubborn and vindictive parties come together with only their own interests at heart, there is no winning on either side. Some people are so centered on their enemies that they lose sight of themselves — they put blinders on with a single-minded desire for the other party to lose.

This is no way to live — we should always try to find some peace in any negative situation. If we cannot win, we must know when to step away.


People with the mentality to win alone don’t intentionally create losers, so let’s take a small step back and consider that it’s not always obvious that when we win, others might lose. Sometimes we are so focused on our wins that we forget others might be losing.

This level of selfishness is sometimes difficult to recognize because all that matters is that we get what we want. This indifference is cold and is unproductive when building relationships.


This is a mindset that sees there is enough for everyone and that both parties can win. This is a frame of mind and heart that continuously seeks mutual benefit in all circumstances.

If we go into situations with this mindset, it allows us to also consider the possibilities of better solutions, even while we are in the midst of discussions and negotiations. Thinking win/win means searching for creative ways to meet everyone’s needs.

Win/Win or No Deal

Generally used at the beginning of a relationship, this mindset is one that is open to the possibility that we can simply just walk away if the solution does not fit both parties’ expectations. We can agree to disagree peacefully. There is no need to force a solution if mutual benefits cannot be found.

We do not have to be resigned to the idea that any deal is better than no deal at all. This is a form of thinking beyond win/win because it is the realization that sometimes, two parties just don’t work together — and that’s okay.


Our culture is wired for competition, so not everyone is ready to think win/win. We often think that succeeding means there can only be one winner. The win/win mentality tries to break through all of that — it challenges us to see life as a cooperative arena, not a competitive one. A win/win mindset constantly seeks mutual benefit in all of our interactions with others — the goal should be to come to agreements or solutions that work for everyone.

Approaching situations with a win/win attitude depends on three traits: integrity, maturity, and an abundance mentality:

  • Integrity in all situations requires you to know yourself and stick to your true feelings, values, and commitments.
  • Maturity refers to your ability to express your own ideas and feelings with courage and respectful consideration for the ideas and feelings of others.
  • An abundance mentality is the belief that there is plenty out there for everyone; it stands in contrast to always being concerned about scarcity.

Focusing on win/win means going into a situation with confidence in those traits, and focused on the singular result that both parties can win. If all parties get the results they want, then everyone can leave happy. We should not dive into the methods of obtaining results until we agree that the results are wins for both parties.

If you feel that you are starting to lose your grip on a possible win/win situation, you can pause and use a phrase like this: “Can we pause and think about how we can both feel like we’re going to have a win at the end of this?”

Competition has its place in this world, but we must come to terms with how it can compromise our relationships with others. At the core of this win/win mentality is wanting the best for others, but also appreciating the fact that we are worth benefiting as well. Working for wins on both sides is an investment in the longevity of a relationship.

This post is part 4 in a series on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Read about the other habits here:

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