Learning and Teaching the 7 Habits: Paradigms of Interdepdndence, and Habit 4 – Think Win/Win

Remember this chart of the 7 Habits? The first 3 Habits we’ve covered form that lower pyramid and bring us from Dependence to Independence. That means that we habitually recognize ourselves as the decider in our lives, we keep the big picture and our deepest values in mind, and we organize to execute every day on those values. We build our confidence in ourselves: in our own ability to be disciplined, to be honest with ourselves, and to deliver to ourselves the results we desire most deeply, and not merely moment to moment, or in accordance with the wishes of someone other than ourselves.

Today, we’ll begin the move from Independence, to Interdependence. This means taking the concept of Stewardship Delegation that Covey discussed in Habit 3 “Put First Things First,” implementing it more strongly, and adding overall effective cooperation with others for mutual benefit. We can personally feel great and produce good results at Independence, but, there’s magnificently greater potential in working well with other effective people!

Paradigms of Interdependence

Before getting to the 4th Habit itself, Covey includes an essay that circles back to his earlier discussions of Private vs Public Victory and Personality vs Character Ethic. As you may recall, deep success in life can only come from a deeply effective character: we must be a disciplined, trustworthy, active, kind, person. We cannot merely give the surface impressions of those things because the success that kind of manipulation builds is fragile, and doesn’t give us nearly the satisfaction of victory built on a great character. Further, the techniques of social skills recommended in the personality ethic are far more effective when backed up by a strong character. Build the rock-solid foundation first, then build the pretty house on top.

The mastery of your character in a clear mission, in discipline, in self-reflection: these all add up to a Private Victory. People only get glimpses of it, unless they interact with you deeply and often. The Public Victory comes after, built on the Private, when you’re building those amazing relationships, developing those amazing skills, and producing those amazing, tangible results: in athletic performance, in artistic creations, in the generation of properly-earned profits, in the foundation of socially useful charities that heal the sick and lend comfort to the suffering.

Likewise, you need Independence before you can have Interdependence!

If you try to skip that step, your relationships will be shallow and fleeting, and you’ll often be a drag rather than a boon to others, or their pawn. When two or more Independent people meet and collaborate, that’s a wonderful thing: they can trust each other, they don’t worry about offending each other yet can graciously apologize if needed, they can produce great things and joyfully share the fruits of their labor. When Dependent people attempt to collaborate, they get in each other’s way, they needlessly complain about uncontrollables, they walk on eggshells around each in a reflection of their own fragile egos, and they jealously guard their knowledge and talents, never fully opening up their potential to another person, or even to themselves.

Covey emphasizes that there are no quick-fixes when it comes to relationships with others: you reap what you sow, later words cannot simply erase past behaviors, and personality can at best give a flimsy plaster over character.

The Emotional Bank Account

Covey gets into his metaphor of the emotional bank account to describe effective relationships of all sorts. As someone can deposit money in a bank, watch it grow with interest, and draw from it later, so one can emotionally invest in another person by listening to them, being kind, having fun with them, and building trust. Asking tough favors, picking fights, and violating trust all make major withdrawals. They impoverish rather than enrich the relationship.

Specifically, Covey identifies six ways to make deposits into the emotional bank account:

  1. Understand the individual
  2. Attending to the little things
  3. Keeping commitments
  4. Clarifying expectations
  5. Showing personal integrity
  6. Apologizing sincerely when you make a withdrawal

It should be clear why someone stuck in Dependence and with weak character is going to suck at maintaining a good emotional bank account. These sorts of people project their own insecurities and flaws onto others, they jump to conclusions, they can’t even be honest with themselves or keep commitments to themselves, and they lack the personal confidence and self-image to weather making a sincere apology.

Personally, I think the emotional bank account metaphor is useful to describing all but one time of relationship: the sexual. While the methods of deposit that Covey lists can be compatible with sexual relationships, and certainly a person of stronger character has greater potential for more and deeper sexual and romantic relations, these deposits do not necessarily generate attraction in others. In fact, they often do not generate attraction, and attraction is the key to any sexual or romantic relationship. It is the prerequisite to any lasting success in that regard. It is not everything, but its the foundation, the core, and can make up for deficits elsewhere in the relationship. I argue that it’s the key to any successful marriage, as far as marriage can be successful. Attraction is not negotiable. It’s about what’s sexy, not what we’d like to be sexy.

That arena aside, I like the emotional bank account for friend/friend, sibling/sibling, parent/child, professional/client relationships.

Now onto the 4th Habit itself!

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

This is the first habit of interdependence. It allows an Independent individual to effectively work with others in mutually beneficial relationships.

Covey identifies six paradigms of human interaction. These are:

  1. Win/Win: Seeking mutual benefit in human interaction.
  2. Win/Lose: Seeking to defeat the other party. Zero sum.
  3. Lose/Win: Being a people-pleaser, or a doormat. Zero sum.
  4. Lose/Lose: Mutually self-destructive behavior, often seen in disputed divorce settlements.
  5. Win: Seeking to maximize benefit for oneself, without concern for the benefit of the other party- you don’t necessarily want them to lose: you simply don’t care.
  6. Win/Win or No Deal: Seeking to achieve mutual benefit, and will walk away if such a deal cannot be achieved.

Out of these six paradigms, Covey recommends that we focus on “Win/Win or No Deal” as often as it makes sense, because doing so produces the most benefit in the long-run, with a balance of P and PC. (Production and Production Capacity.) In some situations, Win/Lose makes sense: if you’re playing football, for example, one team must win and one must lose. Sometimes Lose/Win is acceptable in the short term, to build an emotional relationship in the long-term.

Overall though, thinking Win/Win, and accepting nothing less than a Win/Win deal, maximizes utility for yourself and the other party in the long-run, because it generates the maximum trust and good will. Suppose that you could take advantage of someone’s temporary circumstances to pressure them into a Win/Lose deal: this would generate outsized returns for you in the short run, but, when that other party is back on their feet, they’re going to have ill feelings towards you and be reluctant to deal with you again. Versus, if you only deal Win/Win with them, they’ll be there to cooperate with you in the future.

While competition is an unavoidable fact of nature and of human society, cooperation often produces the greater results for everyone. Much of capitalism is expressed in competition, such as the competition for rival firms to sell to a limited pool of customers. But, capitalism is also based on mutually beneficial deals, in a system of voluntary exchange. When people with different ideas and talents collaborate in a way that benefits everyone involved, they can produce much more wealth than if they distrusted and fought against each other.

How to Develop Win/Win as a Habit

Covey sees Win/Win or No Deal as a deep habit of character, not merely a technique. It’s important for people to analyze their decisions and relationships, to make sure that they are actually doing Win/Win, and not merely talking about it, as could happen in many organizational environments. For instance, Covey describes a business he observed, in which the various sales office branch managers were combative and uncooperative towards each other- the company’s president was puzzled by this, as he always verbally emphasized the importance of “Win/Win.” As Covey discovered, however, the company’s incentives ran completely counter to the Win/Win mentality: each branch manager was in competition with each other for a Bahamas vacation, with only one possible winner. Where was the incentive for any of them to share ideas with each other?! The president had created a Win/Lose scenario, and merely paid lip service to Win/Win.

According to Covey, there are five dimensions of Win/Win which must be present in order to build the habit within an organization.

The first of these is Character: the individuals involved must have integrity with themselves and others, they must be emotionally mature enough to balance between speaking up and considering the feelings of others, and they must hold an abundance mentality, meaning that they think there’s “plenty out there for everybody,” and we can all win together.

The second dimension is Relationship. Individuals must grow their emotional bank account balance with other individuals, and the organization must build its emotional bank account balance with its members. The members must have the history of positive interactions needed to trust each other. They need to know that everyone else in the organization is thinking Win/Win with them.

From relationships flow the next dimension, Agreements. These give the definition and direction to Win/Win, and make partnerships between groups and individuals. The Win/Win agreement must include the desired results for the partnership, the guidelines of how to get those desired results, the resources available, the measures of accountability, and the consequences of success or failure. With all this, the agreements between a boss and an employee, between two businesses, or between a senior and junior manager can be clear, so both sides know what they’re working towards, broadly how to do it, and why. Of course, these agreements can only work when the Character and Relationships are there first!

Moving from the level of flesh-and-blood individuals and into organizational-level concepts and rules, Win/Win depends on good Systems. The incentives in a company must support Win/Win, or else Win/Win isn’t likely to happen. Employees and managers who should be working together should be incentivized in their pay structure to work together. The company’s training, budgeting, H.R., and information systems must all support this.

Finally, Win/Win needs effective Processes. Covey cites the work of two Harvard law professors, Roger Fisher and William Ury, in arguing that effective Win/Win negotiation must be principled rather than positional. That is to say, we must separate the person from the problem, focus on interests and not positions, and to invent options for mutual gain while insisting on objective criteria. You must see the situation from the other party’s point of view, and understand what they want, what they fear. Identify, mutually with them, the key issues and concerns involved, regardless of what any party may want to hold as a position. Then talk about what would be the results both parties want to move to. Finally, together create options to reach those results. This is in contrast to an emotionally immature, dependent, fixation on one’s own positions, without ever finding common ground or opportunities for give-and-take, or entirely new options with the other party.

Application Examples

Covey suggests making a list of obstacles that keep me from applying the Win/Win paradigm more frequently, and then to think about what I can do within my Circle of Influence to eliminate some of those obstacles. Here’s my go at that:

  1. My own anger at people who act rudely. -SOLUTION: Meditate longer and more frequently. I already do 5-10 minutes first thing most mornings, but I should practice more to increase my emotional stability in the face of stress and the irrational actions of others.
  2. My sensitivity and frustration at my own lackluster career and financial success. -SOLUTION: Meditation will help too here, in decreasing stress over this topic. I should also track my finances more, with an eye towards increasing savings and being sure to do all I can to learn about career options and building the skills necessary for success in a lucrative career.
  3. My own need to be liked and thought of as cool, which comes from my own history. -SOLUTION: Meditation yet again. Also, spending more time building an awesome independent life so I can be happier when alone, which, I have gotten better at over time. Also, re-read books and resources on increasing charisma and building connections with others.
  4. My ego-centric thoughts of my ideas being great for the other person. -SOLUTION: Meditation, again. Also, going into meetings with a very open mind, and asking open-ended questions as objectively as possible, to learn about where the other person is coming from and what their concerns and wants are.


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