One of the core principles I use in working with my clients, whether on career or relationship issues, is the concept of the "win/win" situation. While this principle was around much earlier than Steve Covey, it was he who popularized the phrase in his book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People". He strongly preferred it to the other six different ways of conceptualizing adversarial or competitive situations, some of which are briefly summarized as follows.
Win/win: Both parties in a conflict are able to walk away from it with a feeling that they have gained. The essential element necessary for this situation to unfold is for at least one of the parties to hold to the premise of abundance.
Win/Lose: I win, you lose. This is the model that governs most conflicts, and operates from the premise that there is only so much to go around, so if one person loses the other automatically gains.
Win, period: This is the mindset of someone who is so intent on coming out #1 that the other party doesn't even truly enter into the picture.
Lose/Lose: Happens more frequently than you might imagine, particularly in divorces and breakups. Neither party winds up feeling good about the outcome.
Compromise: Each of the parties wins a little, and loses a little. Compromise is often recommended as a way of handling conflict and, while it may sometimes be effective, it is definitely inferior to win/win.
Thinking in a paradigm of abundance is absolutely essential as foundation for a Win/Win solution. If the potential rewards of a situation's outcome are limited, win/win is hard, if not impossible. If you believe in abundance (said another way if you are able to "think outside the box") the opportunities for win/win solutions multiply. After all, there is no box that contains as much space as that which lies outside of it. As Covey states, it’s not about getting a bigger piece of the pie, it’s about making the pie bigger.
So, how to apply this principle to your life? In the area of work, I encounter dozens of people who come to me with the desire to find a new job or change careers, which as you know is a very challenging assignment in this employment environment. By digging into the source of my clients' dissatisfaction I often discover that the heart of the problem is a deeply embedded stylistic (or, less frequently, philosophical) difference with the boss. This month, for example, I'm working with a highly placed government official who came to me expressing a desire to quit his job and become a writer. While I encouraged him to explore his creative impulses, upon probing I learned that he actually enjoyed much of the work that his job entailed; it was his boss that was the problem. My client is highly organized and the boss is a somewhat frenetic multi-tasker, resulting in conflict after conflict over how to accomplish tasks and to what level of detail. Of course my client wanted his boss to have a different style, but that was not going to happen. The result: a lot of frustration from my client, and the boss feeling disrespected. I employed the "win/win" philosophy by suggesting that my client seek his boss' input before implementing projects (which he had not been doing, since he didn't value his boss' style). This left the boss feeling knowledgeable and in charge, and allowed my client to execute projects more or less as he saw fit because he had procured conceptual buy-in in advance.
A "win/win" example from my couples work: A 30 year old husband married for three years found himself resenting his wife because she felt that his interest in sports came ahead of her; the husband loved golf and football, and between 18 holes every Saturday and watching football almost every Sunday during the season, she felt shut out and unimportant. A classic compromise would have been golf every other Saturday, and football every other Sunday. But the better solution was my suggesting to the husband that he plan several weekend trips a year to romantic destinations (the Outer Banks and the Smoky Mountains were two that they chose), making his wife feel special and reassuring her that he remained in love with her. His interest in sports then became a lot less threatening, and she planned activities with friends and her older sister when she knew he would be engaged.
"Win/win" is all about finding solutions that address the underlying emotional issues, and as long as those issues can be identified the solutions can almost always be found.