Most of us enjoy getting our way. Most of us love to win! And most of us assume that when we get our way, it is a win. However, any parent of a toddler (wearing us down) or an adolescent (same dynamic!) knows that’s not necessarily the case.
Fatigue has yielded the skirmish to the stronger side… which doesn’t make the winner “right.”
And then there’s marriage or a long-term relationship, offering all manner of examples of conflict in which we recognize that when we let the other “win” an argument, in certain circumstances, it can wind up being a loss — a gradual erosion of communication and respect.
Obsessed With Winning
The importance of winning? In our competitive American society, we vie for almost everything. We strive for the “best” — the best self, seemingly a positive objective, along with the best performance in school, at work, even in bed. We do so love our comparisons!
But in a culture that routinely divides us up into winners and losers, what happens when winning becomes an obsession? When we maneuver to win every argument? When we lose sight of the relative importance of what we’re fighting over?
Why must some of us always get our way, and how do the rest of us live with those individuals?
Noting that America is “obsessed with winning,” Psychology Today reminds us:
Winning is an outcome. However, when people become obsessed with outcomes, they can lose sight of the journey, lose sight of who they are and how they got there, lose appreciation for the value of people who don’t win.
Doesn’t obscuring everything but the “win” itself sometimes mean losing sight of friends, family members, and romantic partners?
The Importance of Losing
At one time or another, most parents talk to their children about losing. We want our kids to be good sports, to be gracious in the face of defeat, and yet we want them to be competitive. We want them to be “winners,” knowing full well that losing is part of life.
As for processing second place or third place, or falling to the bottom of the heap, how well we manage — and model positive behavior as parents — depends on the nature of the loss: what we’ve invested, how high the stakes are, opportunities ahead, and of course, personality, temperament, and mental toughness. While we might claim that all losses are lessons, there’s no doubt that some can be life-changing, with few positives to be identified.
Setting aside the financial venture that doesn’t work out, or the business that crumbles, or the wholly unusual event that pushes us to the edge, what about everyday disagreements? What about the unnecessary escalation of arguments? Why does it seem that those of us who are more willing to back down when voices are raised often find ourselves paired with people prone to needling, cajoling, or yelling?
Must we mention narcissism in this mix as well? Haven’t we witnessed a growing culture of narcissistic behavior, including the characteristic insistence on being right?
Compromise Is Not a Dirty Word
Sure, we all insist on getting our way some of the time. We use whatever means available to accomplish this, especially if the issue is important. I recall some parenting decisions so vital that I pulled out all the stops to get my way, because I was convinced it was best for my children’s education. Those instances were the exception in my marriage, but I would say that my insistence was definitely a win, despite the friction that resulted.
Knowing when to fight and when to back down — picking your battles — is a skill that most of us acquire with the ones we love, over time. What we stand up for is a matter of values, circumstances, and at times, convenience. Still, if you’re constantly backing down (or shutting up) because it’s easier to let Hubby Dearest “win,” I contend that your shutting up will eventually lead to shutting down, or worse.
If we’re smart, we school our children in winning, losing, and compromise. In the real world, the ability to give and take, and reach an agreement, is critical to accomplishing your objectives over time. Ditto on the daily domestic doings in most households. Besides, I imagine you would agree that cornering your spouse or significant other — pressuring him or her into doing things your way — can become a bad habit. And likewise, simply giving in to keep the peace.
Tougher than it sounds… Better to encourage discussion without hurtful words, and either convince your sparring partner of your point of view or… you got it… find a workable compromise.
“My Way or the Highway”
Know this: If you constantly coax or coerce others to give in — if you’re a “my way or the the highway” negotiator — in my opinion, you aren’t a negotiator at all. In fact, if this is your norm, you may be bordering on bullying, however elegant an argument you think you craft.
On the receiving end, if you’re dealing with someone who must win — all the time — it feels lousy, dismissive, distancing.
Is this the same as having the last word? Hmmm… Seems like it, don’t you think? Whether it is or isn’t, when faced with the insistent flow of words, it helps to try to understand the behavior. It also helps if your sweetie’s truly “winning” ways — the traits that are exemplary — outweigh the niggling need to come out on top.
Having your facts lined up. Keeping a cool head. Standing your ground with calm demeanor, even if things begin to heat up.
And no… all argumentative partners are not men! Don’t make the mistake of assuming that women aren’t capable of “my way or the highway” behaviors.
Feeling Bigger When the Other Feels Smaller
Of course, for some people, winning is all about feeling bigger, and feeling bigger requires that they make others feel smaller. And we all know there are ways to diplomatically clarify when we are right without doing that. There is never a need to make another person feel badly about a different view, or for that matter, being wrong.
So what if you unintentionally make someone you care about feel belittled? Is making another person feel stupid or ridiculous ever a win?
I don’t think so, however commonly it may play out.
If you ask me, regardless of who is right in an argument or debate, if you’re chipping away at the self-esteem of someone in your life — husband, wife, lover, sibling, child — you’re courting a long-term loss, if not disaster.
Depending upon the tone, language, and frequency of occurrence, at its extreme, this behavior can become emotional or verbal abuse. And even when your communications don’t reach such undermining depths, isn’t it miserable to be around the bottomless pit of self-absorption that feeds the need to always win?
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