Dawn and Pam were both good basketball players —good enough to make the varsity team their sophomore year. And they were good friends, until Dawn started hitting four or five shots a game and getting more attention. Whether consciously or unconsciously, Pam became resentful and stopped passing to Dawn.
Sometimes it seems life's all about winners and losers—in sports, business, reality TV and even school.
Sean Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens (1998), talked about the "forced curve" grading policy in his business school that demanded 10 percent of each class would flunk.
Our competitive world influences us to think in strange ways. Sean Covey says that this duel-style mentality is like "two friends being chased by a bear, when one turned to the other and said, 'I just realized I don't need to outrun the bear; I only need to outrun you.'"
But even if movies, sports, school and cutthroat business practices glorify winners and demean losers, that's not the way it has to be in the most important things in life.
Sean Covey and his father, leadership expert Stephen Covey, talk about a different way of thinking. They call solving a problem so that all parties are satisfied "win-win" thinking. Sean Covey compares life to an "all-you-can-eat buffet." No one has to go hungry—no one has to be a loser.
But what about the basketball duo of Dawn and Pam? Sean Covey relates the story as Dawn shared it with him:
"One night, after playing a terrible game in which Pam kept the ball from me most of the game, I was as mad as I had ever been. I spent many hours talking with my dad, going over everything, and expressing my anger toward my friend-turned-enemy, Pam.
"After a long discussion, my dad told me that the best thing he could think of would be to give Pam the ball every time I got it. Every time. I thought it was the most stupid suggestion he had ever given me . . .
"The next game came quickly, and I was determined to beat Pam at her own game. I planned and plotted and came out with a mission to ruin Pam's game. On my first possession of the ball, I heard my dad above the crowd . . . 'Give her the ball!' I hesitated one second and then did what I knew was right."
Pam was shocked, but not too shocked to sink the basket. Dawn felt good, and kept it up throughout the game, only shooting if the play called for her to shoot, or if she was wide open.
"We won that game, and in the games that followed, Pam began to pass me the ball as much as I passed it to her" (Sean Covey, pp. 152-153).
In all our relationships in life (and what is life but relationships?), we really want everyone to win. When our family, friends, coworkers and classmates win, it doesn't mean we lose. In fact, it makes it more likely we'll "win" too.
Win-win thinking is an application of the Golden Rule: "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12 Matthew 7:12Therefore all things whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
American King James Version×). The apostle Paul also discussed this principle in Philippians 2:3 Philippians 2:3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
American King James Version×: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself." (Romans 12 also describes how to live at peace with others; see verses 10 and 14-21.)
Win-win thinking is important in the business world as well. The Mediation Center of the Pacific states that "studies suggest that 30%-40% of a manager's daily activities are devoted to dealing with some form of interpersonal conflict." That investment of time and resources makes it very important to turn win-lose conflict into win-win thinking.
Leadership expert Warren Bennis says: "Leaders do not avoid, repress or deny conflict, but rather see it as an opportunity. Once everyone has come to see it that way, they can exchange combative posture for a creative stance, because they don't feel threatened, they feel challenged" ("Mediation Skills for Managers," p. 3).
The Bible has some interesting examples of win-win thinking. In 1 Samuel 25, David had already been anointed as king, but was still on the run from the reigning king, Saul. While a fugitive, David and his men had actually been protecting the flocks of a rich rancher and decided they needed to politely ask if the rich man would be willing to share some food with them.
The rich man, Nabal, rudely refused. When David heard this, he was angry! The scene was set for a deadly win-lose (or maybe a lose-lose) confrontation (verses 4-13)!
But Nabal's wife, Abigail, intervened and presented a sensible win-win plan. David's men and Nabal's household were both satisfied. (Not everyone lived happily ever after though, as Nabal himself fell ill and died—but that's a different story.)
Another example is found in Moses' leadership of the Israelites. Moses was being overworked in an "I lose, the people lose" scenario. By spreading himself too thin in trying to resolve all their problems alone, Moses was overworked and the people had to wait a long time for answers to their questions.
But after his father-in-law brainstormed a possible solution, Moses wisely listened and applied the plan to give him helpers (Exodus 18:13-24 Exodus 18:13-24  And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning to the evening.
 And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that you do to the people? why sit you yourself alone, and all the people stand by you from morning to even?
 And Moses said to his father in law, Because the people come to me to inquire of God:
 When they have a matter, they come to me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.
 And Moses' father in law said to him, The thing that you do is not good.
 You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you: for this thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it yourself alone.
 Listen now to my voice, I will give you counsel, and God shall be with you: Be you for the people to God-ward, that you may bring the causes to God:
 And you shall teach them ordinances and laws, and shall show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.
 Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:
 And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for yourself, and they shall bear the burden with you.
 If you shall do this thing, and God command you so, then you shall be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace.
 So Moses listened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said.
American King James Version×). The people got the advice and assistance they were seeking faster, and Moses got some much-needed time off. It was a win-win solution.
When you can't win
Of course there are times when a Christian is called on to be willing to lose—in the short-term (1 Corinthians 6:7 1 Corinthians 6:7Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because you go to law one with another. Why do you not rather take wrong? why do you not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
American King James Version×). Sometimes the other person isn't interested in a win-win solution, only in making you lose. But we know that in the end, God wins and so do His people.
Romans 12:18 Romans 12:18If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.
American King James Version×says, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men." When we do this, we end up as winners whether the other person does or not. As Christians, we should always try to make it possible for the other person to win too, but sometimes people will choose otherwise. If this happens, Christians shouldn't feel like failures since they have done their part.
If it looks like someone is going to be the loser in a situation, think win-win! Here are some steps suggested by experts in conflict resolution at the Mediation Center of the Pacific:
• Get the facts.
• Focus on the present and the future, not the past (don't play the blame game).
• Break down the problem into smaller parts and find mutually beneficial agreements on these step by step.
• Brainstorm for possible solutions.
• Find common ground.
Stephen Covey's fifth habit also helps with this: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." This requires what he calls empathetic listening, where "you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and your heart" (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989, p. 241).
These steps lead to the sixth habit, "synergize," or creative cooperation. Synergy is like winning multiplied. When everyone is working together creatively, the results can be phenomenal!
Helen Keller agreed: "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."
The basketball duo of Dawn and Pam came to exemplify this. "We won the majority of our games that year and became a legendary small town duo," Dawn said. "The local newspaper even did an article on our ability to pass to one another and sense each other's presence." That's win-win! GN