Win-Win What Does That Really Mean?

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Win Win, what does that really mean anyway?  My new book Think Like A Negotiator, 50 ways to create win-win results by understanding the pitfalls to avoid is all about win-win negotiation.  What that means to me and to you is that both sides will have a winning result and walk away from the deal, the discussion or the negotiation feeling like they won vs feeling like they lost or were defeated.  My good friend Glen Morshower of the hit TV show 24 and the movie Transformers says this: “I don’t want to win at your expense, I want to win at your expanse. “

Negotiation is a lot like a game of checkers or chess.  These are both games of strategy.  One person makes a move, the other considers their strategy and what consequences their move could bring and then makes their move.  It goes back and forth until there is one winner and one loser.  For Win-Win negotiation it would be advisable to go into the discussion with a strategy, but have your end result for both sides to be a win vs going in to win at all cost and take down the opponent.

It starts long before you get to the negotiating table and the first thing it starts with is your attitude.  If you go in with a “conquer all” attitude you might very well win but at the expense of the other party.  Your extreme win could put the other side out of business or put them into a negative financial spiral.  This could in the end negatively impact you depending on the nature of the deal.

Early in my Air Force career I was a buyer.  I bought things for the base such as office machines, carpet, furniture, lumber, plywood, trees, auto parts, you name it, I bought it or managed a contract for it.  One day I received a request to purchase an $8,000 paper shredder with special specifications for handling Top Secret shredding including special cross cut features. The request included a catalog page and a sole source justification which meant they were requiring that I bought it from the only source that would meet the Government’s needs.

Government regulations require us to get more than one price quote for things over a certain dollar amount.  At that time it was $1,000. Sole source purchasing required a mountain of paperwork! So, I did some research to make sure there was not any other shredder that could meet the Government’s needs. (I wanted to avoid the mountain of paperwork) I found one from another company and when I called them I discovered the shredder was manufactured by the same company that manufactured the $8,000 shredder.  The only difference was the price and the logo on the shredder.  Theirs was only $5,000!

I was excited to save the Government almost 40%!  I called the customer and told him the good news.  He quickly started to raise his voice at me and demanded I buy the $8,000 shredder.  He would not hear anything I had to say.  I was totally unprepared for that response. How in a case like this do you make a win-win negotiation?  How do you get someone to come over to your side and see your point of view when they are adamant about their position or even hostile?  That is where negotiation really starts and this is something you need to be prepared for in advance.  I was not and it took me off guard.  That could be the turn that the other side needs to win a bigger deal in certain negotiation situations.

You have to think through every option available and be prepared just in case you get a response like that. Sometimes you have to stand on your principals and the win-win will show up later.  It might mean taking a risk but if you are sure of your position, in the end the win will come.

The discussion with the paper shredder went overboard.  He brought his supervisor over to talk to my supervisor.  The commanders got involved.  It got blown way out of proportion.  In the end my boss backed me and I made the $5,000 purchase.  This guy couldn’t wait for the shredder to come in and had informed me when he received it and it didn’t meet his needs, he would immediately have his commander contact my commander to give me a “letter of reprimand” which was like being charged with a misdemeanor crime.  Not only would negatively affect my career, it would stay with me for as long as I stayed in the Air Force. It could eliminate my chances of promotion, special duty assignments or certain awards. That was a big deal.

Two months later the shredder came in and I got a call from the guy who first thanked me for saving him $3,000 and apologized for giving me such a hard time. He also had his commander send a letter of appreciation. I took a big risk because I had done my research and had the facts to back it up.  The guy I was dealing with was convinced I was wrong and he was right despite the evidence that indicated otherwise. Sometimes you have to stand on your principles when you know you are right.  It may be risky but in the end as in this situation is produced a win-win all around

Eldonna Lewis Fernandez
Eldonna Lewis Fernandez
Veteran negotiation and contracts expert Eldonna Lewis-Fernandez, author of “Think Like a Negotiator,” has over 30 years of experience crafting killer deals both stateside and internationally, many in excess of $100 million. She’s currently the CEO of Dynamic Vision International — a specialized consulting and training firm that helps individuals hone negotiation skills — as well as a nationally regarded keynote speaker, session leader and panelist on the Art of Negotiation. Eldonna may be reached online at

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