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Solve Tough Dilemmas With the Win-Win Waltz

All conflicts can be resolved, with everyone winning, if you know how.

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"I'm Right and You're Wrong About Everything"
Instead of arguing make decisions the win-win way.
Instead of arguing, let's both of us be winners.

Would you like to resolve all your conflicts without arguing? No more "My way!", "No my way!" fights? Learn instead the three steps of the win-win waltz.

The three steps of win-win waltzing help you to understand each other's concerns instead of locking into adversarial positions. The more understanding you gain about both your and others' deeply felt concerns, the more likely it becomes that you will be able to be nice to yourself and simultaneously nice also to others.

Based on the ideas first written about in Fisher and Ury's book Getting to Yes, the win-win waltz can enable you to dance through collaborative problem-solving to resolve your differences like partners instead of becoming enemies.

Conflicts occur often between folks. All duos, at home and at work, from time to time have different preferences. One wants to turn left and the other to turn right. Fortunately, differences needn't lead either to fighting to establish who wins and who will lose, or to giving up on what you want. There's no need to compromise either, or to get mad.

Here's further good news. The same strategy for talking through problems that works between two people works also within groups of any size.

The same strategy works as well for inner dialogue between two parts of yourself when one side of you wants one plan of action and the other prefers an alternative. You may want to go out for a walk, and at the same time feel obligated to stay at work. You might want to eat a cookie, and at the same time want to lose weight.

Compromises leave both sides feeling compromised. If you want to live in San Francisco and I want to live in New York, settling in Kansas City will leave us both unhappy. While occasional problems do lend themselves to a meet-in-the-middle or split-the-difference compromise solution, compromise in most instances is a lose-lose strategy.

Compromises are problematic as well for decisions between two sides of yourself, like between what you feel you should do and what you really want. If you love two different potential partners, taking have of one and half of the other surely will not work.

By contrast, win-win collaborative conflict resolution leaves all participants feeling great. Skills for finding win-win solutions to differences enable folks to emerge from disagreements with all participants feeling like the agreed-upon plan of action is as at least as good and maybe even better than what they initially thought they wanted to do. That's true for conflicts at home, for resolving differences in work or social situations, and even for personal decision-making inner struggles when you feel torn between options.

Here's a quick win-win problem-solving example.

A waltz has three steps. Here's the three steps of the win-win waltz.

Win-Win Waltz Step #1: Note when there's a conflict.

Janie phones Bill just before leaving work to say that she wants to go out for supper. Bill wants to stay home. Oops. They are facing a conflict. A problem to solve. A situation in which they seem to want opposite solutions. A decision that needs to be made jointly.

The first step, and often the hardest, of the win-win waltz is recognition that, Aha!, we have a conflict here. It's waltz time!

Win-Win Waltz Step #2: Switch from insisting on your preferred plan of action to exploring both of your underlying concerns.

Instead of engaging or a tug of war, or either of side caving in to the other, Janie and Bill each put their underlying concerns on the table. Janie says that she has been working long hours and feels too exhausted to cook. She also has a yen for lush green salad with lots of fixings, and their refrigerator is empty. Bill wants to watch his favorite team on TV and none of the restaurants they like have a TV screen. Besides, salads leave him hungry.

Win-Win Waltz Step #3: Find a solution responsive to all the concerns.

Bill then proposes a win-win solution idea, a win-win plan of action that he hopes works for both of them. "How about if I stop at the grocery store on the way home, the one with a big salad bar, and pick up big salads for us to eat together when I get home? I'll add a hearty soup for me, a bread we can warm in the oven, and a few fried chicken legs. I'm glad to clean up the kitchen after supper too; I can watch the TV from the sink."

Bill's plan was responsive to all his concerns, and to all the concerns of his wife as well.

What's the secrets then to finding win-win solutions?

Rather than insisting from the outset on your initial solution or suggested plan of action, use your initial preference of what to do as a jumping off point for diving down to clarify your and your partner's underlying concerns. Understanding the concerns to which your original idea had been one of many possible solutions then makes it relatively easy to create a solution that satisfies both of you.

The hardest part, as I mentioned above, often is step one, noticing when to use win-win solution-building. You'll need to practice noting any time you feel a tug of war emerging, that is, any time that each of you is pulling for a different plan of action.

The secret then is to flip immediately from arguing in favor or against particular action plans to collaboratively verbalizing each of your underlying concerns. No more persuading; just mutual exploring and listening.

Once the two of you have succeeded in generating a full list of underlying concerns, generating win-win solutions can be creative and fun.

Use the Worksheet below to guide you through the win-win waltz to solutions that please you both. For further help, check out

The Win-Win Waltz Worksheet


A's Initial solution proposal: ____

B's Initial solution proposal: ____


  • ___
  • ___
  • ___
  • ___
  • ___
  • ___

Note: Be sure to list all the concerns of both participants on one list, indicating that any concern of one of you immediately becomes a shared concern of both of you.

STEP 3: CREATE a WIN-WIN SOLUTION, responsive to all the concerns

  • Start by identifying the most strongly felt concerns, building the plan initially around the most strongly felt concerns.
  • Add enhancements until all the concerns are responded to.
  • Suggest only what you yourself might be willing to do.
  • Express appreciation of what the other offers
  • Add additional concerns that each proposed solution may raise, and create solution options responsive to these concerns as well.
  • Aim to build a solution set, a comprehensive solution

Potential win-win ideas: ____

Circle back one more time: have all the concerns been responded to in the plan of action? Add further pieces to the plan as needed. In this regard the win-win waltz differs from waltzing on the dance floor in that the steps may go 1-2-3-2-3-2-3 .... Brainstorming for solution ideas is likely to bring to mind additional concerns, which is helpful.

You can virtually always be right, let others feel right, and both be winners.

You'll know that you have completed the win-win waltz process when the plan of action you have co-created has elements in it responsive to every one of the concerns of both of you. That's how, while neither of you may have "gotten your way" with regard to your initial solution ideas, both of you will have succeeded in getting what you wanted!


Susan Heitler, PhD, a Harvard and NYU graduate and a Denver clinical psychologist, is author of From Conflict to Resolution for therapists.

For couples who want to learn to talk collaboratively instead of arguing, Dr. Heitler has written The Power of Two with a fun online program that teaches the skills for relationship success,

(c) Susan Heitler, PhD
Source: (c) Susan Heitler, PhD

Dr. Heitler's most recent book, Prescriptions without Pills, prescribes techniques for relieving anger, depression, and anxiety in relationships. How? By insuring that both partners feel heard and appreciated.

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