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A Personal Lesson: There are no words in German for Win-Win Solution

June 6, 2011

Sometimes in my daily living someone says something that turns my head around, changes my beliefs and rewrites my map of the world.

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure to work with a culturally diverse group of US and German employees from a large multinational European based company. We were reviewing the results of a wonderful tool called the Thomas Kilmann Inventory (TKI) which uncovers conflict styles. Conflict in this case is defined as two or more people who have differing and unmet needs and must work together to resolve these needs. The tool categorizes conflict styles into five categories that lie within a two dimensional axis, one axis cooperation and the other assertiveness.

Ever since the book, Getting to Yes, was published, the win-win solution has taken a center position in US negotiation processes. When I defined the style called Collaboration which is a high cooperation, high assertive, win-win style, the Germans said that their language has no words for win-win solutions. In German culture, the best one can expect is a compromise that perhaps neither party is completely satisfied with called a guter Kompromiss. I was surprised to say the least. It never occurred to me that other cultures would not have words or even the concept of win-win. In fact, it was one of those ah ha! moments for the entire group.

There is an old saying that the map is not the territory. Our own maps are a representation of reality and an often incomplete ones at that. We are often unaware of the flaws and narrowness of our maps. We assume others believe as we do and think like we think. The more we discover, the more we know about our fellow world citizens that more we will adapt, compromise and perhaps create “win-win” solutions that change the world for the better.