Tuesday 17 September 2019

Why winning at any cost can be a damaging goal

Your Business

'Win/win ensures most needs and objectives of both sides are met' (stock photo)
'Win/win ensures most needs and objectives of both sides are met' (stock photo)

Alan O'Neill

'We're having a spat with China, but we'll win," said Donald Trump as he prepared for his trip to the G7 summit last weekend. And that attitude pretty much epitomises his administration.

No sooner had the ink dried on his instruction to slap tariffs on Chinese imports, did the Chinese retaliate. So both sides will lose out. And anyone who was surprised lacks an understanding of the basic nature of human interactions.

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The history of business is full of examples of scenarios that ended in similar tit-for-tat fashion. This macho mindset is missing a most fundamental reality of negotiations. There is always a tomorrow. If you have a need in your business for an ongoing relationship with the person that you are interacting with, this win/lose thinking is totally inappropriate. Going into an interaction with the intention to beat the other side is short-term thinking.

Such actions don't always start out in a 'Trump macho' way. They can often evolve during phases of an interaction where a lack of maturity and foresight can deliver players into this trap. For his own self-promotion, I watched a manager take credit for ideas from one of his team members.

What do you think that team member did with his next big idea? He kept it to himself. That win/lose scenario ultimately led to a lose/lose outcome. And the third loser was probably the organisation itself.

A retailer who I know also comes to mind. The young buyers with multi-million budgets think that profitable deals and career progression come on the back of inappropriate use of power. They make unrealistic demands of their suppliers, with the constant threat of de-listing them. And guess what some suppliers do? They create separate price lists with inflated prices, knowing the buyer will push and push. It's a silly game that wastes time for everyone.

Whereas, if both parties approached their agreements with an obvious win/win mindset, trust would develop. Every interaction with another party leads to an outcome:

• Win/lose is exemplified by one party seeming to get one up on the other side. It's about one party having concern for their own needs only and winning at all costs. This person uses words like 'I want…' and 'no'. They may achieve short-term gain but it's actually a poor-quality deal. There will be little commitment to the deal from the 'losing' party. And if that other party is a customer, then watch to see if they ever come back again. If the losing party doesn't get a chance to rebalance the relationship, it usually ends, ultimately, in lose/lose.

The only time that it may be appropriate to use this style is if no future relationship is required. For example, if you're selling a property on a one-off basis, then I can understand why you might want to win by getting the highest price.

• Lose/win may be appropriate if you have done something wrong in the past to the other party and you use this opportunity to recover the relationship. You might say 'whatever you think yourself', allowing the other side to call the shots. This style might also be appropriate when future relationships are more important than achieving your own short-term objectives.

• Lose/lose leads to no deal, bad feeling and poor morale. There will be a reluctance from both sides to deal again with each other in the future - unless they have to. This style is only appropriate if no resolution is possible and the best deal is no deal. Boris Johnson comes to mind.

• Win/win ensures most needs and objectives of both sides are met. It leads to long-term gains and a warmer relationship. When it's done with authenticity and transparency, it often leads to good collaboration, where two plus two delivers five. I remember training a group of retail buyers on this concept and their boss was terribly concerned about the risk of developing weak buyers. It took some persuasion and testing to prove that win/win thinking is not about rolling over and being soft. The road to achieving this outcome may be fraught with tensions and jockeying for position. But if both parties recognise that both sides have to achieve some objectives, then that is more likely to lead to a win/win.

Tips for achieving a win/win outcome:

1 Shape your company culture

The organisation's culture has a part to play in influencing a win/win mindset. If the culture seems to encourage competition and inappropriate win/lose thinking, that's unfortunate. Do what you can to influence and role-model win/win behaviours.

2 Challenge your own mindset

Being competitive is a positive trait when it is channelled in appropriate settings. But not all interactions require you to be competitive and to win. Be mindful of the relationship with the other party. Is this encounter a one-off or will you be interacting with this person again in the future?

3 Put a value on all variables

The more variables you introduce to a negotiation, the better the chance of finding wins for both parties. Price, for example, is just one variable. But when you analyse and consider what is likely to be important to the other party, it allows you to put a value on everything.

For example, LC Packaging sells packaging to horticulturists in Holland. Due to weather changes, farmers don't know in advance what their harvest will produce, so can't forecast supply requirements. LC has a 'never out of stock' policy, which is of great value to the farmers. This enables LC to get a higher price than the competition. That's a win/win for both sides.

4 Build trust through dialogue

As much as is realistic, have open dialogue with the other side to build trust. Take time to understand what is important to the other side.

The Last Word

There are opportunities for win/win and win/lose thinking all around us.

Most likely, you interact with others in your own organisation for workload distribution, terms, decision-making or actions.

What mindset is most prominent in your approach? How do you think others perceive your style? As the new James Bond movie is announced, don't forget, tomorrow never dies.

  • Alan O'Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie

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