top of page

Why No One Wins a War or Argument

For millennia, tales of rival love, wars, superheroes, and villains depict an unwavering fight until one party has been defeated and the other declared the victor. Losers are often cast aside and ridiculed, while the winners are celebrated and revered.

This tradition of celebrating winners and dismissing or devaluing the 'loser' is still prevalent today. However, the truth is, real life isn't this cut and dry.

Rarely do real-world conflicts end neatly. Like the ​perpetual cycle between ​Palestine and Israel, each side tries to win by beating the other. However, this form of conflict is more like a pendulum where the 'loser' decides they need to even the scoreboard and push back harder.

​It's easy to see the impossibility of ultimate victory. Yet, in our conflicts, we repeatedly play into ​the myth of winning. Wired into the core of our brains is this primal system to treat conflict as an epic battle of good versus evil (where "good" is the side we're on). Yet when we go down that road, we all lose no matter who "wins" the fight.

Stubborn emotions

Daniel Shapiro, Founder and Director of the International Negotiation Program​ at Harvard Law School, states that "Whether it's an issue between heads of state or husbands and wives, almost universally they approach conflict as adversaries: 'me versus you.' This triggers stubborn emotions, making digging oneself out of that conflict very difficult." ​

We often begin to vilify each other when we disagree — a primal longing to conquer. We subconsciously make ourselves righteous and portray the opposing party as ‘bad’ or the enemy. It isn’t just strangers or acquaintances that we vilify. We can turn our closet loved ones into villains for the sake of winning. Why?

It feels better to be right and ‘victorious.’ Literally​: The brain gives itself a dopamine reward for being certain. We are addicted to righteousness — ​to winning. Unfortunately, in this neural war, in this context of reaction, to "win" means beating others. To be "right" means ​to be right OVER others. We make them wrong so we can be right​.

Why no one really wins a fight

In a real war, we lose the flower of a generation, lose peace, and lose civil society. ​We lose connection, trust, energy, or relationships in our personal conflicts.​ ​Once we move into conflict, ​​everyone involved is tarnished. Everyone involved becomes hurt​ —literally or at least emotionally. Then our oppositional positions become increasingly entrenched.

Developing a Win/Win Mindset

Daniel Shapiro shared an essential lesson for emotions in conflict: Don't make conflict stand between us.

​The solution is paradoxical, and it might feel like a kind of surrender — but it's not. The solution is to stand next to your opponent and, ultimately, to make that person your ally instead. Shapiro states, "Shift the relational stance, so it's no longer ' me versus you' but the two of us working side by side facing a shared problem. This creates a substantial emotional shift."

​Instead of seeing the other person as the problem, see the problem separate from an individual’s identity and as something shared between you—to solve together. This is the central principle of an amazing martial art called Aikido: move so you can redirect the energy of the conflict.

This takes a shift in feeling, thinking, and doing, as Ridit Raj Dutta wrote in the comments of this article: "If you ever have to Win-Win people's hearts."

In Aikido, it’s literally a step, a physical movement. In the “aikido of relationships,” it’s an emotional step. This requires emotional intelligence​:

​Know Yourself: tune in.

Choose Yourself: deescalate.

Give Yourself: step together.

This is the Six Seconds Model of Emotional Intelligence – an action-framework to activate EQ.

Shifting from “I” to “We”

In Six Seconds' training for managers, to use EQ to give more effective feedback, we teach "I to We" — a process for moving the conversation from blame to collaboration. The essential point is that "emotional Aikido" encourages coming together to stand side-by-side. This process creates alignment and can be applied in almost any relationship when we feel the oppositional stance beginning.

There are three steps in I to We:

  1. Make an "I statement" to identify your feelings.

  2. Acknowledge this is a shared experience.

  3. Discuss how to improve the situation together.

How to shift out of conflict in 3 steps:

Step 1 – "I Statement"

​State your feeling honestly but compassionately using: "I feel ____" then the situation. For example:

I feel dissatisfied with the way this is going.

I feel uncomfortable with the way we're delivering to our customers.

I feel sad about our relationship.

Using the "I statement" to honestly express your feeling is honest – the other person can't deny you are feeling this way – and offers a little vulnerability rather than blame.

Step 2 – Check-In

Invite the other person to join you by acknowledging their feelings and asking for collaboration. For example:

How do you feel about this?

You've also told me that you're not thrilled with this.

Listening to their feelings creates a mutuality — it also helps you bring your empathy forward.

Step 3 – Invite to Join

Ask how to improve the situation together, for example:

How can we improve this?

What can we do to make this better?

Working on it together makes it a collaboration where you are not on opposite sides but standing shoulder-to-shoulder facing a shared challenge.

Choosing to step up or step away

Conflict is everywhere, and we have a thousand chances each day to add violence. Violence in our hearts and heads, if not in our deeds. We get sucked into the myths of winning and making others bad so we can justify our stance. Yet over and over, it fails. Over and over, the winning is hollow, and we're left with bitter ashes rather than the sweet taste of victory. Maybe it's time to stop stepping into the circle?


About the Author

Joshua is a co-founder and CEO of the Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Network. He is a Master Certified Coach (ICF), and the second of his five books is the international best-seller, At the Heart of Leadership. He's passionate about the spark that ignites at the intersection of compassion and purpose.

bottom of page