Friday, April 22, 2005

Playing to Win vs. Playing Not to Lose

I realized in negotiation class today that some people play to win, while others play "not to lose."

To use a baseball analogy, people who "play to win," feel comfortable walking a batter to load the bases. They are fine with trusting people and taking some calculated risks if it increases their chances of winning.

On the other hand, people who "play not to lose," are driven by their fear of getting hurt. They seek to protect themselves at all costs. They are very hesitant to trust other people and are pre-occupied with avoiding risks.

Of course, there is a spectrum between these two extremes. But my life philosophy is that a strategy solely focused on "playing not to lose" isn't very effective.

Years ago my father told me to "never do business with people you don't trust, because in the end you will always lose." No matter how comprehensive your contract, no matter how airtight your patent, they will find a way around it.

If you find yourself emphasizing the "playing not to lose" mode of thinking when crafting a partnership, ask yourself "am I dealing with people I don't trust?"

An obsession with protecting oneself from harm doesn't serve to create anything of value. It's what can be termed a "negative" strategy, because it is focused on what you "don't want to happen."

If you are to truly benefit from the what a partnership can bring, you need to also foster a culture of co-operation that make partnerships work and to clarify the benefits of the partnership both to yourself and your partners. This is a "positive strategy" insofar as it focusea on what "you want to happen."

Lacking a positive strategy, you are basically assuming your partnership will fail.

So the optimal solution seems to be the middle road: (1) introduce safeguards into your agreements but (2) Develop a vision of a successful partnership and (3) clarify and publicize both for yourself, your partners, and employees, the benefits of the partnership and (4) to maximize the chance of success, find ways to allow people at all levels in both organizations to foster strong working relationships.

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