Identifying What Winning Really Means

In this section we’re going to talk about what happens when you do not argue with common purpose or understanding and how you can identify the best outcome in any given situation.

Before continuing, please do the exercise below.

Exercise-Identifying What Winning Means

The Problem: Lacking Common Purpose and Understanding

9 times out of 10 when I ask somebody what they think it means to “win an argument” they tell me something like “persuading others of your opinion.”

This way of thinking about winning causes many problems:

  • Participants work against each other instead of with each other:
  • So-called winners can be wrong: Imagine the harm you can do if you’re a politician arguing over a law, or a doctor arguing over the correct way to do a surgery.
  • You can “win” in the moment at the cost of your relationship with others: You may have one the argument but lost or alienated a friend.

The Solution: Identifying What Winning Really Means

So what does winning really mean?

As you probably gathered from doing the exercise, the answer varies with every situation.

  • At work, winning argument might mean that your teams comes up with a better product.
  • In politics, winning might mean a better law, or peace between people in conflict.
  • In personal relationships, it might mean coming to a conclusion that satisfies all involved.

That’s why the first skill you need in order to truly “win” arguments is to identify for yourself and others participating what winning really means.

Here are some tips to help you identify what winning really means:

  • Always ask yourself, “what is the best outcome in this situation?”
  • If you are about to have a meeting where you know people have different views, start the meeting by reminding people of the common purpose that is bringing you all together.
  • If you find yourself in an argument with someone close to you, don’t forget to ask them what they want. Pay attention to their needs, and share your needs with them. Just because you disagree about something does not mean you stop caring about each other.
  • If you don’t have an opportunity to discuss the purpose of an argument with other participants, then at least clarify in your own head what your goals are. This will guard you against distractions.

In all cases, remember that, even if you seem to be on different sides, ultimately you are often working towards the same goal. You help each other by bringing different perspectives and you should be grateful and try to support your partners in argument.


Some Questions to Think About

  1. Does everyone always have the same goals? What happens when people have different goals? If this causes problems how can we get around these?
  2. Can you think of any situation when it’s good for everyone to focus on their own side winning?

Go to Section 2: Recognizing When Not to Argue