The Myth of Winning

Emotional Intelligence EQ South Africa Durban Avril Kidd The Myth of Winning Article. Image: multi racial team winning with arms up in the air celebrating
Written by: Avril Kidd
To effectively resolve a conflict, all parties need to come away with a workable solution which they agree to. This article explores methods to enable everyone to win.

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.

The Myth of winning!

In his article, The Myth of Winning, Josh Freedman writes “There’s a primal longing to conquer. In our own heads and hearts, we make ourselves righteous, and we make them bad. They become the enemy. We’re at war in a brutal cycle that we see in the headlines each day and, just as much, to our daily lives.” He goes on to say that, “Winning is a Myth and everyone loses”.

“The perpetual cycle between Palestine and Israel is a prime example — it’s a pendulum that each side pushes. Each side tries to win by beating the other… then a few months, years, or generations later, the other side decides they need to even the scale and push back harder.”

This was written in 2014 and look where we are today!

I have written several articles on the Amygdala Hijack, where we see how our brains, geared to protect us, actively seek out danger and threats… and then at the initial moment of conflict our brain cortisol levels rise and cortisol and adrenaline are released, causing us to overreact in zero to sixty seconds. This can happen when …

  • Someone’s words don’t match their emotions = danger.
  • Someone speaks in a harsh tone of voice = danger.
  • Someone questions your rightness = danger.

The more stressed we feel, the more likely we are to interpret signals as dangers and land up in the Emotional hijack state which is often ‘fight mode’.

As Josh continues to say, “We distort reality by selecting information that reinforces our own perspective as our brains love to be right. In fact, the brain gives itself a dopamine reward for being certain. We’re addicted to winning and unfortunately, we are geared that to ‘win’ means to beat others. To be ‘right’ means to be right OVER others. We make others wrong so we can be right . If you’ve ever attended my workshops you may have played the arm-wrestling game ‘win as much as you can’ where we experience the ingrained pattern of winning by beating others as opposed to winning as a team. To win doesn’t always mean everyone else has to lose.

Josh continues to write, “In fiction, battles may be brutal, but there’s always a clear victor. Whether it’s a story of corporate conflict, or rivals in love, or a literal war, the hero wins. In our love of sports, we almost always see and celebrate one winner or one winning team”.

Real life is messier

“A glance at history is enough to make fiction preferable. What percentage of our real-world conflicts end neatly? Something near zero.

It’s easy to see the impossibility of ‘clear victory’, yet in our conflicts, over and over, we play into the myth of winning. Wired into the core of our brains is this primal system to treat conflict as an epic battle of good versus evil (where ‘good’ is the side we’re on). Yet when we go down that road, no matter who ‘wins’ the fight, we lose.

In real war, we lose the flower of a generation, we lose peace, we lose civil society. In our personal conflicts, we lose connection, we lose trust, we lose energy, we lose relationships.

No one wins a fight

Once we move into conflict, everyone involved is tarnished. Everyone involved becomes bloodied and hurt – either literally, or at least emotionally. Then our oppositional positions become increasingly entrenched”.

To effectively resolve a conflict, all parties need to come away with a workable solution which they agree to. This method is also referred to as the ‘win/win’ method of resolving conflict. It avoids one party feeling like the loser in the situation. Too often we choose the win:lose option which mostly results in a lose:lose scenario, especially long-term.

How to actually win

Daniel Shapiro (Founder and Director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program at Harvard Law School, and author of Beyond Reason) says: “Whether it’s an issue between heads of state or husbands and wives, almost universally they approach conflict as adversaries: ‘me versus you.’ This triggers a colorful set of stubborn emotions, which makes digging oneself out of that conflict very difficult.”

He sees the solution as standing next to your opponent, and, ultimately, making that person your ally instead. “Shift the relational stance so it’s no longer ‘me versus you’ but the two of us working side by side facing a shared problem. This creates a substantial emotional shift.”

Instead of defining the problem as the other person — or even as an issue between you, redefine it as something you share. Stand shoulder to shoulder facing the issue together. This is the central principle of an amazing martial art called Aikido: move so you can redirect the energy of the conflict.

In Aikido, it’s literally a step, a physical movement. In the ‘aikido of relationships’, it’s an emotional step. This requires application of emotional intelligence:

Know Yourself: Use your self-awareness to tune into yourself and recognize what you are feeling and why.

Choose Yourself: Using your Self-management skills to pause and look at what options you have. Remember Stop, Think and Act. Slow down the process to deescalate so that you can respond rather than react!

Give Yourself: Find common purpose and use your empathy for perspective taking.What is it that you really want from the situation or the person and how would I feel in their shoes?

When we discussed how to have a crucial conversation, we looked at the stories we tell ourselves and how we often vilify the other parties (the victim story). Read more about that in my article, Handling Crucial Conversations

The Six Seconds’ Technique of ‘I2We’ is a process for moving the conversation from blame to collaboration. The essential point is that ’emotional Aikido’ move of coming to stand side-by-side. This process works to create alignment and can be applied in almost any relationship when we feel the oppositional stance beginning.

There are 3 steps in 12We

1. Make an ‘I statement’ to identify your feelings.
2. Acknowledge this is a shared experience.
3. Discuss how to improve the situation together.

So, how do we put this into practice?

Step 1

State your feeling honestly but compassionately using: “I feel ____” then the situation. For example:

  • I feel dissatisfied with the way this is going.
  • I feel uncomfortable with the way we’re delivering to our customers.
  • I feel sad about our relationship.

Using the ‘I statement’ to honestly express your feeling is honest – the other person can’t deny you are feeling this way – and offers a little vulnerability rather than blame.

Step 2

Invite the other person to join you by acknowledging their feelings and asking for collaboration. For example:

  • How are you feeling about this?
  • You’ve also told me that you’re not thrilled with this.
  • Listening to their feelings creates a mutuality — it also helps you bring your empathy forward.

Step 3

Ask how to improve the situation together, for example:

  • How can we improve this?
  • What can we do to make this better?

Working on it together makes it a collaboration where you are not on opposite sides but standing shoulder-to-shoulder facing a shared challenge.

The goal of conflict resolution is not to decide which person is right or wrong; the goal is to reach a solution that everyone can live with. Looking first for needs, rather than solutions, is a powerful tool for generating win/win options.

Contact me if you would like more info on working with your team to develop winning strategies.