For many of us, the idea of getting our way implies someone else doesn’t get theirs. Getting our way has a bad reputation – we hesitate to push for what we really want, for fear of harming someone else.

In some situations, it’s true that one wins and the other loses – in sports, one team must lose for the other team to win. In others, though, this perspective can derail our efforts to find better alternatives.

When considering how to avoid win/lose outcomes, we often jump first to compromises. For example, a parent may be faced with the dilemma of two children who, in their excitement to play dress-up, both want the same tiara. One solution would be to have the two children trade-off wearing the tiara every ten minutes. That seems fair. Unfortunately, the children rarely see it that way and start to fight about who gets it first, and when that gets settled, the one who doesn’t have it pouts unhappily until it’s their turn.

Compromises may indeed be necessary at some point. First, though, let’s explore ways to handle the situation without anyone having to give up what they really want. The trick is to explore fully what each one wants and why. With the tiara example, we can begin by asking each child why they want the tiara. Maybe one wants to pretend they’re a queen or king. Maybe the other wants to dress up “fancy”. In that case, the second child may be even more delighted to wear a big hat, sparkly jewelry, and those old high heels in the back of the closet.

Shifting to an example of adults in the workplace, say there is only one available office on an outer wall and two employees want it. Again, asking why they want it may indicate an expanded range of possible solutions. One may want the office because it’s quiet, out of the way, and has a door. The other may want a window that brings a sense of the bigger picture to her work space. Knowing that information, possible solutions may include moving supplies from a large storeroom and putting the first person there, or giving the second person a cubicle by a window.

We can learn to get our way more often by considering what each party wants. Just because we’re successful doesn’t mean that we’re manipulating anyone. Looking at why each of us wants a given solution can do as much for the other person as it does for us. We are recognizing that we aren’t the only people with valid needs or concerns, and that it’s important to take the needs of others into account as we work to meet our own.

Before you begin to negotiate solutions based on joint consideration of needs, know your bottom line. Once you know what you really need to get out of the solution, then you can relax and be more flexible above that line. Don’t settle for less, but make sure your bottom line is reasonable. Remember that you can’t change another person, so if you expect an introvert to become the life of the party, you need to shift your expectations. The same caveat would apply if you want an extrovert to stay in every night quietly reading.

Just winning and losing are narrow ways of looking at conflict. We can get our way in life, and those around us can get theirs, and we can still get along. Finding a solution doesn’t have to mean sacrifice and giving up important things. If we communicate and collaborate, we can usually create answers that meet everyone’s most important needs.