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  • Writer's pictureJacob Curtis

How to Avoid the Frustrations of Working with People

Imagine you are in your garden. It's beautiful! Bright colors everywhere! The roses are brilliantly red. The corn stalks are tall and green. The tomatoes are coming in beautifully. Everything is looking excellent!

But you notice that the watermelon you planted is growing carrots. That's weird. And the apple trees are growing potatoes. Odd.

What is happening here? What we thought we planted is now bearing the wrong fruit or vegetable. How can this happen?

In short, it can't happen. The seeds we planted were not watermelon seeds but were carrot seeds. The apple tree seeds were potatoes eyes. And now we are reaping what we sowed.

While this is an extreme and improbable scenario, we do this in life and business. We hope for specific results, but our actions get us different results. For example, we may want the fruits of camaraderie and cooperation among our employees, but we incentivize them with competition among themselves. We say one thing but do another.

The fourth of Steven Covey's seven habits is "Think Win/Win."

My name is Jacob Curtis. I'm a CPA and Certified Profit First Professional. I co-own Utah Valley Quilting and founded Curtis Accounting Solutions, where we help quilt shops piece together financial freedom by implementing Profit First, doing bookkeeping, payroll, and taxes, and providing business coaching.

Before I get into what it means to think Win/Win, let's do a quick recap of Stephen Covey's 7 habits of highly effective people. The first three habits (be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and put first things first) all deal with yourself. No one else is involved. These three habits help you to become more self-aware and independent. The first three habits help you gain confidence and security to be comfortable "letting others in" and "emotionally free" to focus on others.

The Ten Commandments are all about relationships—the first four address my relationship with God (the correct principle designer), and the other six address my relationships with others.


The implication of "Think Win/Win" is to develop scenarios and agreements that are "wins" for everyone involved. This includes all your relationships, from family to friends, employees, vendors, and customers.

Think about this for a minute. If your customers do not come away with a win when buying something from your store, they will not likely buy from you again, making you feel constantly pressured to find new customers to support your store.

On the flip side, if you have razor-thin margins and the lowest prices in town, you are not winning because you are not making a profit. And without your profit, you will have to close your store permanently, ending any benefit you and your customers were getting from your store.

But when you both are winning, the customer is getting a high-quality product, excellent customer service, a pleasant experience, and you are making a profit, hiring and paying employees, and growing to serve more customers. Your customers are more likely to be repeat customers, and you can keep your doors open for years. Now you can help more customers and employees and have financial freedom.

6 Attitudes

To be clear, Win/Win is not a technique but an attitude. In general, there are six attitudes we can have: Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Lose/Lose, Win Only, Win/Win, and Win/Win or No Deal.

  1. Win/Lose is domination like sporting competitions, "You have to lose for me to win." "Winner takes all," like in the Hunger Games books and movies.

  2. Lose/Win is giving in and not having the courage to try because "I can't win, so why try." It's a fatalistic attitude.

  3. Lose/Lose is like war and other destructive conflicts, "I may not win, but you won't either." It is "mutually guaranteed destruction," as during the Cold War.

  4. Win Only is selfishness, "I don't care about the effect of my actions on others so long as I win."

  5. Win/Win is striking a mutually beneficial deal.

  6. Win/Win or No Deal is the highest form of the Win/Win attitude, "I will do nothing unless we both come out better in the deal."

The first four attitudes are "shortage" mentalities, based on the premise that there are insufficient resources to share. While competition has its place, when it becomes the prime motivation in life, it wreaks havoc. The world is devastated by three significant plagues: self-centeredness (attitudes 1, 3, 4), self-reliance (attitude 4), and self-condemnation (attitude 2). All of which focus on the "self." But correct principles call you out of that to be focused upon others to be effective.

Win/Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit for all involved. It is living out, "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39 (ESV)).

Many leaders and parents swing back and forth from Win/Lose to Lose/Win. When they can't stand the confusion and lack of structure, direction, and discipline, they swing back to Win/Lose--until their guilt undermines their resolve and drives them back to Lose/Win--until anger and frustration them back to Win/Lose. It's a never-ending cycle until they focus on having a Win/Win attitude.

Anything less than a Win/Win is a poor second best that will impact long-term relationships. The cost of that impact needs to be carefully considered. If you can't reach a genuine Win/Win, you're better off going for No Deal.

The Win/Win or No Deal attitude is most realistic at the beginning of the business relationship. No Deal may not be an option in an existing relationship which can create serious problems, especially for family businesses or businesses that began based on friendship.

Without No Deal, many businesses deteriorate and either fail or are turned over to professional managers. If you are starting a business with family or friends, it is best to acknowledge the possibility of No Deal sometime down the road. Address this in the operating or partnership agreement so the business can prosper without permanently damaging the relationship.

Character is the foundation of Win/Win, and everything else builds on that foundation. Three character traits are essential to the Win/Win attitude: integrity, maturity, and an abundance mentality.

The first three habits help us develop and maintain integrity. If we can't keep commitments to ourselves and others, our commitments become worthless.

Maturity is the balance between courage and consideration. While courage may focus on getting the golden egg, consideration deals with the long-term welfare of the goose that lays the golden egg. If you can express your feelings and convictions with courage and then balance that with consideration for the feelings and convictions of another person, you are mature, especially if the issue is important to both of you.

The Abundance Mentality is the worldview that plenty exists for everybody. People with a Scarcity Mentality have difficulty sharing recognition, credit, power, or profit, even with those directly involved in that success. They also have a hard time being genuinely happy for the success of others, including close family and friends. It's almost as if something is being taken from them when someone else significantly succeeds.

People with a Scarcity Mentality often compare themselves to others. And they surround themselves with "yes" people or people who won't challenge them. This makes it difficult for them to be members of a complementary team. They look at differences as signs of weakness.

The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the attitude that plenty is out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing prestige, recognition, profits, and decision-making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.

The Abundance Mentality takes the personal joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment of the first three habits and turns them outward and appreciates the uniqueness, inner direction, and proactive nature in others.

A character rich in integrity, maturity, and the Abundance Mentality has a genuineness in human interaction. You build and maintain Win/Win relationships from the foundation of character. And character produces trust. The best we can do without trust is a compromise; without trust, we lack the credibility for open, mutual learning and communication, and natural creativity.

A relationship with lots of trust and commitment to Win/Win is the ideal springboard for tremendous synergy. This position creates a positive, cooperative energy focused on thoroughly understanding the issues and resolving them in a mutually beneficial way. A leader will go beyond transactional leadership and be a transformational leader.

An agreement means very little if the character and relationship to sustain it are low. So, we need to approach Win/Win from a genuine desire to invest in the relationships that make it possible.

In a Win/Win agreement, the following five elements must be very explicit:

  1. Desired results (not methods) identify what is to be done and when.

  2. Guidelines (or the principles, policies, etc.) specify the parameters within which the results are to be accomplished.

  3. Resources identify the human, financial, technical, or organizational support needed and available to help achieve the results.

  4. Accountability sets up the standards of performance and the time of evaluation.

  5. Consequences specify what will happen due to a good or bad evaluation.

These five elements give Win/Win agreements a life of their own. A clear mutual understanding and agreement up front create a standard against which people can measure their own success. Letting people judge themselves is much more ennobling than being judged. And in a high-trust culture, much more accurate.

As long as you have an up-front Win/Win agreement and everyone knows exactly what is expected of them, your role as a leader is to be a source of help and to receive their accountability reports.

In an organization, you get what you reward. If you want to reflect your values and achieve your goals, you must align the reward system with these goals and values.

Competition has its place in the marketplace or against last year's performance. But cooperation in the workplace is as important to free enterprise as competition is in the marketplace.

For Win/Win to work, the systems have to support it. The training system, the planning system, the information system, the financial system--all have to be based on the principles of Win/Win.

Your job as a leader is to create Win/Win culture. For employees, this means having Win/Win performance agreements with your employees. I call these Key Results Areas or KRAs. I challenge you to create a one-page Win/Win performance agreement for each employee.

I have done this with my team, which has made an enormous difference in how my team behaves and my attitude toward them. Both of you being on the same page is freeing. The KRAs or Win/Win Performance Agreements are not static. They change as the business grows and the individual grows, so make sure you evaluate them regularly.

Creating Win/Win Performance Agreements with employees is just one application of this habit. Look for other areas where you should apply a Win/Win attitude.

I would love to hear from you as you apply this habit. Please email me at and tell me how it's going.

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