I think we can safely say that the Bible speaks to how we think. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Stephen Covey certainly recognized that in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 4 simply acknowledges that how we think about conflict determines the solution.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win.
I confess this habit is one of my favorites because it gives me permission to think creatively about possible solutions.
You may also have noticed that I posted on Habit 5 (Seek First to Understand) before Habit 4. In my own thinking about conflict, I find it critical to first seek to understand before I can think of win-win solutions that truly bring value to the other person. I recognize though that the mindset of win-win must be in place to even want to reach out to others and understand their desires.
Covey noted often that Habits 4-6 are indeed interconnected. One naturally leads to and fuels the other:
- Think Win-Win.
- Seek first to understand…then to be understood.
Thinking win-win is the opposite of thinking only of yourself. It’s a mindset that seeks first to add value to all. Yes, even to yourself.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV)
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:44 ESV)
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:4 ESV)
A few Biblical examples come to mind of those who thought win-win — and those who failed to do so. Consider first the positive example of Daniel:
Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring…youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.
Therefore he [Thinking Win-Win] asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” hen Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”
So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. (Daniel 1:3-15 ESV)
Consider also the negative example of Rehoboam who had an opportunity to think win-win when he followed his father Solomon to the throne. The people offered to loyally serve him if he would just reduce their tax burden. After rejecting the elders’ advice and consulting his naive peers, Rehoboam refused. He chose a win-lose path in which he would get all or nothing. He got nothing. (1 Kings 12 )
This win-lose thinking holds a tight grip on American political thought these days, though perhaps no more so than at other times. The reality is that elections have winners and losers. Because of our sinful nature, it seems we find it easy to not just win, but pummel our opponent beyond recognition in the process. It seems I’ve heard in political circles recently the phrase, “I won. You lost.”
In our churches, this win-lose thinking results in vicous power struggles that split the body of Christ.
In our families, this self-centered mindset causes endless division that leaves some momentarily triumphant but everybody hurt.
How do we get to win-win? By laying down our insistence on getting everything we want for starters. Christ modeled this approach for us by emptying himself to achieve what was the greatest win-win ever conceived — the gospel.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8 ESV)
Here are three simple steps I use to get to win-win:
- Identify what it is you really want. You may need to drill down a bit to find what is at the core and what is optional.
- Understand what it is the other party really wants. This will require active listening and empathy.
- Seek common ground where your goals overlap. Think of the Venn diagram below to visualize what that might look like.
Do you really believe that most conflicts can have win-win solutions? Where do you find it easiest to slip back into win-lose thinking? Leave a comment here to share the growth.