Winning Too Much

You know there are times in our conversations with others when we stop communicating and begin putting our ideas ahead of theirs, and our need to feel right no matter what the cost becomes more important than the value of discussing the idea. Marshall Goldsmith calls this “winning too much”.

He shares a great example. You come home from work. Your spouse tells you they had a hard day. You say to them, “You think you had a hard day. Have you any idea how hard my day was and what I had to go through?” The point is that we are so competitive that we have to prove that we are more miserable than those we live with.

We exhibit this behavior of winning too much in a few other ways as well. At home, we argue with our spouse and children. In a work meeting, we want to make (and keep) our point with colleagues and defend them at all costs; we make it personal. The spotlight shifts from discussing the idea to the people discussing the idea. At the checkout line in the supermarket, we scout for the fastest-moving line instead of being patient and enjoying the moment for what it is rather than rushing. Winning our phone conversations in long-distance relationships is another example.

I’m guilty of “winning” on more occasions than I would care to admit. I know full well that I’m doing the wrong thing, and yet I do it anyway — often to the point that I end up hurting the other person. It becomes all about winning some trivial matter, which is never as important as my relationship with the other person. We become so obsessed with being right that we end up hurting our relationship with the other person. This is almost always followed by regret. The thing is it’s never worth it even if you’re right.

Winning in the moment becomes more important for us than anything else in that it takes precedence over everything, and we end up hurting the other person because of that.

Winning too much is by far the number one behavioral challenge for most of us. We do the wrong thing despite knowing what we should do. We feel the need to win at all costs when the matter is important, trivial, and even when it’s totally beside the point.

So why do we feel the need to win at all costs? Well, I suspect that our ego has a great deal to do with it, which rears its ugly head in our interpersonal relationships more often than we would like. It’s sole job is to keep us alone. Ego is like that 24/7 news channel that is always running in the background on the television that never really turns off. Ego can never fully go away. The best thing we can do is to be aware of it and ignore it as much as possible to keep it at bay.

There are a couple of things we can do to suppress this behavior that we all suffer from to some extent:

No argument is worth risking your relationship with the other person. Your relationship with that person is far more important than winning an argument — trivial, important, or otherwise. Just let it go. You don’t have to win the argument, and it doesn’t matter even if you’re right (particularly when you’re right).

Before making our response in a critical point before our casual conversation turns into a full-blown argument, we can pause and think about our response. We can ask ourselves if what we are about to say could hurt the other person and if saying it is worth risking our relationship with them. If it is, we can stop right there and say something positive to diffuse the situation.

We can also take regular feedback from those with whom we interact the most. That will help us get better in our interpersonal relationships over time so that we can strive to be the best we can be in terms of our character.

None of us are immune to this behavioral challenge. The most we can do is suppress it and not let it take over our conversations, our relationships, and our lives. The best thing we can do is to be aware of it, accept it, and commit to working on it to get better. The next time you try to win and prove you are right, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What am I winning here?”

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