If we start from the proposition that there will be differences and disagreements in all relationships, then it follows that how you resolve these disagreements will be critical to on-going success of those relationships. You see, every disagreement will have a resolution. You want to make sure that the resolution does not leave lingering hurt or resentment in either of you.
In resolving differences and disagreements, there are only four possible outcomes.
1. One is for the resolution to be good for you but not for the other person. We call this win–lose. The danger in this is that the other person may feel defeated, slighted, or resentful. These lingering feelings may very well contaminate the relationship, ultimately leading to unhappiness for you.
2. A second is for the resolution to benefit the other person but not you — a lose–win proposition. In this, you may very well feel upset, possibly contaminating your future interactions with this person, making harmony and happiness a casualty.
3. A third resolution is that it ends up bad for both of you. You both feel like you lost and you both will likely carry bad feeling forward. There is unlikely to be no happiness here for anyone and the future of the relationship may very well be put into jeopardy.
4. The best outcome is when you work hard to find a resolution that works for both of you. You see to it that there are no losers. You both win and feel good about the outcome. This insures that you both continue to derive pleasure from the relationship without being dragged down by hurt or resentment.
A Personal Example of Win-Win
When Patti and I first met over 25 years ago, I owned my own residence. It perfectly fit my needs. I had virtually no yard work, no snow to shovel, no outside maintenance. Sitting only blocks from a golf course, I loved its modern architecture.
As much as this house suited me, it was not Patti’s cup of tea. Having spent years in the Caribbean before renting a log cabin on a sprawling farm outside Charlottesville, she reveled in her rustic privacy. She could literally leave her front door open all day, had no neighbors, and was able to experience the sights and sounds of nature anytime day or night. She loved it.
When we married it made sense for her to move into my house as I owned and she rented. Though she willingly did so, she was never content there. While Patti lobbied to move to a home that better suited her, I resisted. Discussions went back-and-forth, neither of us happy with the outcome. Tied to we each getting our own way, we strived vigorously to convince the other of the validity of our positions. We both operated from a win–lose mentality.
I distinctly remember the day of our breakthrough. With a twinkle in her eye, Patti approached me and asked: “Don't you counsel couples?” She suggested that I tell her what I do with couples who find themselves at such loggerheads. She wondered if we could use the same tools.
The long and short of it was that, by listening carefully to what each wanted and by working together to find a win-win solution, we found the perfect solution, one that neither of us envisioned as long as we were in combat.
By putting my arguments aside and truly listening to what Patti wanted, I discovered she liked the design and décor of the condominium, but didn’t like “apartment living.” She wanted bucolic privacy. When she listened to me, she found out that I could easily live in a single dwelling home relatively isolated from other people; I just didn’t want to live in a colonial or rustic dwelling.
After about a year of diligent searching, we found the home that fit both our needs. It rests on three and one-half wooded acres with no other dwelling visible when leaves are on the trees. There's a stream that runs through the property, trails to walk in the woods, and deer and other wildlife meander through the property. At the same time, the house has the modern features I like, most notably floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room.
This was truly a win–win resolution to our disagreement. We both take great pleasure in the house we share, so this provides us ongoing happiness. Even deeper, the courtesy and respect we showed each other by genuinely engaging in the win-win process deepened our bond and added to the ongoing happiness we derive from our relationship.
The win–win process is fairly simple and straightforward, yet it is often not easy to pull off. This is so because it requires a much different mindset than most of us bring to our disagreements. Moreover, it requires some patience and self-control, as you will see below. But, by bothering to follow the process, you will be pleasantly surprised by the solutions you find and gratified by the increased happiness you derive from your relationships.
Step One – Be Alert. Rather than avoiding the differences or disagreements you may have in your relationships, acknowledge them. Be clear that, if ignored, they can fester and deprive you of the full pleasures these relationships can bring. Be aware that these disagreements provide a wonderful opportunity to deepen your bond with others so long as you handle the differences in a respectful win–win way.
Step Two – Eliminate Upset. It is very difficult for two people to cooperate when one or both harbor hurt or resentment. How willing are you to patiently listen when you feel anger? How motivated are you to cooperatively find a win-win resolution when you carry hurt? Clearly, to make a win–win resolution possible, you need to rid yourself of your hurt and anger.
Step Three – Adopt a Win–Win Attitude. This means that you make a commitment to find a resolution to your disagreements that works for both of you. You genuinely adopt the posture that you will not agree to a solution where you win but your companion loses. You also make sure to commit to not agree to a solution where the other person wins and you lose. You commit to only agree to a solution in which both of you win and neither of you loses.
Step Four – Purposefully Listen. You presumably already know what is a win for you. You also need to know what is a win for the other person as well. How can you find a win-win without knowing the other person’s win as well as your own? To get this information, you need to purposely listen. This requires you to listen without judgment or censorship, just to understand. That is, you listen to exactly what each other wants without the intrusion of your own wants or values. Once you are equipped with the information this non-judgmental listening provides, you are now equipped to find a win–win resolution to your disagreement.
Step Five – Synergistic Brainstorming. Without emotional contamination, with the win–win mindset, and fully understanding what is a win for both of you, you are now primed to find a workable solution to your disagreement. What you do in Step Five is to simply let the ideas fly, brainstorming solutions until you find one that satisfies both of you. Be patient, though, because this can take some time and effort.
Let's summarize what’s been said so far. In all relationships there will be disagreements. How these disagreements are resolved — win–lose, lose–win, lose–lose, win–win — will go a long way in determining the degree of pleasure and happiness in those relationships. Striving for a win–win resolution to any disagreement cannot help but lead to ongoing relationship happiness.
To live win–win, adopt the following practices. The first two are mental, the last three behavioral.
1. Commit to win–win. Make a firm commitment to approach all differences you have with another with the win–win mentality. This will help you strive for a resolution that feels good to both of you. You will find pleasure in doing so and the other person will appreciate you for the effort.
2. Think Breakthrough. Many people approach their relationship problems as catastrophes. That is, they view their disagreements with others as horrors, things to be avoided at all costs. It goes without saying that this breakdown mindset does not lend itself to constructive problem solving.
In breakthrough thinking, you look upon your relationship problems as opportunities to work together to achieve new levels of closeness and intimacy. The questions a breakthrough thinker asks are: What are the possibilities for a win–win solution to this problem? What can we learn that will help us be more happy together? What is the opportunity that exists in this disagreement to build a closer bond?
People who adopt the breakthrough mentality will still not like to experience disagreements in their relationships, but they don’t fear or avoid them. To the contrary, they welcome them when they arise as opportunities for win–win breakthroughs. You can approach your inevitable differences and disagreements this way too.
3. Schedule Problem Solving Meetings. This won’t work for your more casual relationships, but it certainly will pay off for your more important ones. I encourage you to schedule regular meetings with your significant other, your children, and your close colleagues with the agenda being to identify and resolve conflicts. I’ve known couples who meet an hour each week to surface and resolve conflicts. These meetings are not only an excellent opportunity to resolve the more important issues in your relationship life, but they also serve to prevent differences or disagreements from festering over time whereby hurt and resentment can build. In these meetings, follow three ground rules. One, do not turn them into a complaint session. Two, reinforce your mutual commitment to the win–win principle. Three, be more committed to hearing and understanding than to telling and selling your point of view.
4. Listen, Listen, Listen. As I emphasized in my blog on June 30, 2014, listening is a profoundly important skill for relationship happiness. And, as pointed out in this blog, it is an essential part of win–win resolutions to disagreements. Beyond problem solving, remember that listening also serves to communicate caring and respect. So, you can hardly listen too much. Practice it daily and see the results in your relationship satisfaction and happiness.
5. Teach It. We deepen our understanding when we teach something. So, teaching win–win to others aids our own ability to use it, thereby increasing the possibility for more happiness in our relationship life. Beyond that, passing this relationship-enhancing skill on to our significant others, our children, our friends, and our colleagues, sets the stage for mutual happiness all around.
Win–win conflict resolution is a cognitive and behavioral skill that can well serve your relationships happiness. You can not only resolve those nagging disagreements you have with others, but you will also draw closer to these people in the process.
But remember: no matter how powerful these ideas and strategies may be, in the last analysis it’s up to you. You have to determine to use them. Go do it.
Until my next blog, live healthy, happy, and with passion.
Russell Grieger, Ph.D. is the author of several self-help books, all designed to empower people to create a life they love to live. These include: Unrelenting Drive; Marriage On Purpose, and The Happiness Handbook (in preparation). You may contact Dr. Grieger for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org