How valuable is a win?


“I’ve given and given and given. I’m just not giving up any more.”

I hear this kind of objection in nearly every mediation I do. After hours of hard work, give and take and compromise, the entire settlement comes down to one final issue. It rarely matters the consequential matters – the things really important – were settled long ago. The last issue is often the hardest to find compromise for. The importance of this issue comes from its place in time, not the real value of what is at stake.

If I give on this final issue, there is no next issue to regain my losses. Giving in on this final issue would make the whole agreement feel like a loss. And no one wants to walk away a loser.

This same need to walk away from a conflict feeling like a winner shows up on everyday conflicts and relationship issues even more often. If my wife criticizes me about how messy I leave her desk when I borrow it, I feel the need to remind her she often leaves the same area less than tidy, and this is where we agreed I would meet with clients at home.

If I simply accept the criticism and walk away, I have a net loss in the relationship balance sheet, right? I have committed a fault, but her (more serious fault, I might add) goes unsaid.

Just like in the complex negotiation, the giving and generosity from my wife I’ve received in the past seems a wash at the time of this present (albeit trivial) issue. After all, I’ve given in plenty over the years, too. The only way I can feel like I have “won” after this new conflict is to make sure my complaint about her behavior is even more serious than my fault.

No matter the circumstances, we have a drive to leave every conflict feeling like we came out on top. The problem is: Relationships can’t be won. Unlike the legal negotiation, winning a conflict in a personal relationship is not a matter of gaining an advantage on the subject of the conflict.  The subject of the argument rarely matters much.

In a relationship, winning is all about learning in the relationship: Learning about the other person’s desires and needs. Learning about better ways to communicate concerns.Learning about ourselves.That is a real win.