Winning Too Much

MG Thinkers 50 Blog

May 14, 2014

by Marshall Goldsmith

Winning too much is the #1 challenge for most people, because it underlies nearly every other behavioral problem. If we argue too much, it’s because we want our view to prevail (in other words we want to win). If we put other people down, it’s our way to position them beneath us (again, winning). If we withhold information, it’s to gain an edge over others. If we play favorites, it’s to gain allies so “our side” has an advantage.

Our obsession with winning crosses the spectrum of our lives. It’s not just an issue in our professional lives, it works its way into our personal lives as well. Winners love winning. So, if it’s:

• Important, we want to win.
• Meaningful, we want to win.
• Critical, we want to win.
• Trivial, we want to win.
• Not worth it? We want to win anyway!

It is incredibly difficult for smart, successful people not to constantly win. Here’s a short challenge to see if you have the habit of Winning Too Much. Most people fail this test (they have the habit!). When faced with this case study, most people realize they do the exact opposite of what they know they should have done.

Case Study #1

You want to go to dinner at Restaurant X. Your husband, wife, friend, or partner wants to go to dinner at Restaurant Y. You have a heated argument. You go to Restaurant Y. This is not your choice. The food is awful; the service worse!

Your options:

1) Critique the food. Point out that your partner is wrong and this mistake could have been avoided if only he/she had listened to you.
2) Shut up, eat the food, and try to enjoy the evening.

This is a classic case of, ‘What would I do/what should I do?’ What would you do? Critique the food. What should you do? Shut up!

Here is another example of what it looks like to win too much that is much worse!

Case Study # 2

You have a hard day at work. You go home. Your husband, wife, friend, or partner is there. The other person says, “I had such a hard day today…” You don’t let them finish. You interrupt, “You had a hard day! Do you have any idea what I had to put up with today?” We are so competitive we want to win at being more miserable than the people we live with!

Recently, a young man who attended one of my classes emailed me. He wrote that his wife had called him the previous day and told him she had a hard day. He wanted to interrupt her and tell her how her problems paled in significance to his. Instead, remembering the example, he stopped, breathed, listened to his wife, and said, “I love you. Thank you for the sacrifices you make for our family.” On the way home, he bought her a $25 bouquet of flowers. When he got home he gave them to her and told her he loved her. “That was the best $25 I’ve ever spent. Thank you!” he wrote.

The next time you start trying to win and prove you’re right, take a deep breath and ask yourself: Exactly what am I winning? Is this really something I want to win or need to win? Is this even worth the effort? We can become more successful if we appreciate this “flaw” and work to suppress it in all of our interpersonal relations.