According to the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective people, there are four mindsets that we can occupy in terms of our relationships with others: Win-Win, Win-lose, Lose-win and lose-lose.

The reality is that most of us wouldn’t choose a lose-win or a lose-lose mindset very often (I hope) so most of the time, we are in a win-win or win-lose mindset with our peers.

Of course, I think most people are pre-disposed to be one or the other.

Some of that depends on what you do. If you are a derivatives trader, for you to win someone else has to lose. But in most industries reputation counts. If you “win” at the expense of someone else, they may be less inclined to do business with you next time. Win now, lose later.

But if you ensure that every time you win it is in a way that the person you do business with also wins, then you have a customer, supplier or referral source perhaps for years to come.

Sport of course, is a zero sum game. For you to win, someone else has to lose.

But even in the most extreme version of a win-lose sport, boxing, there are opportunities for win-win. Just witness the antagonism and fake hatred that boxers show to each other before a fight. This isn’t about win-lose, it’s about selling more pay per view tickets from which both boxers will earn more money. I sometimes wonder if that big old cuddle they do at the end of a fight is more about “we did it, pal” that boxing camaraderie and respect.

As we emerge slowly blinking into the sunlight from the strangest year of our lives, I’ve been thinking about the new relationships we have built and looking back at some of the content from our newsletters from this time last year. Please accept my apologies for repeating my content from the first week of May 2020 but I thought it was appropriate in the context of where we are now. This time last year, my Friday email said:

“I picked up on something really interesting from the comedian Russell Howard this week when he said: “Hollywood really underestimated us. 

Cos every disaster film is the same. People fighting and stealing and burning. 

 We’ve been quite nice. Can you imagine the Covid-19 film in the future?

Oh my god, the virus is here. Joe Wicks, teach the kids PE. Everybody else, watch Tiger King now.”

I’m not going to repeat the next bits because I’d run the risk of someone making a complaint to our Institute about “conduct unbecoming of a Chartered Accountant” or some other such nonsense but you can find it easily on the Internet.

Perhaps the answer lies in that our underlying nature is one of win-win and when the usual pressures to compete are removed, our natural human desire to care and be part of a community rises to the surface again. 

The seven habits talks about how most of us are pre-disposed to one of the following mindsets: 

Win-win. When you win, I win

Win-lose. For me to win, you have to lose

Lose-win. I am prepared to lose in order that you win

Lose-lose. I don’t care if I lose as long you lose as well. This is a mindset that often rises to the surface most often in divorce cases!

Many of you will know that whilst all our client meetings take place in West Kingsdown, we have a “secret” office a few miles away in New Ash Green where the support team are based. Everyone in our team knows that journey really well but for the benefit of everyone else, I’ll describe it for you and in particular the big chunk in the middle which teaches those who are willing to learn a lot about how adopting a lose-win mindset at the right time can end up being a win-win mindset. 

Basically, most of the journey is on a country road which in most places it is too narrow for two cars to get past each other.  

But there are lots of bulges in the road that are wide enough to fit two cars in (one behind the other) or maybe one big van and those bulges are wide enough for cars coming the other way to get past.  

Everyone who drives that road knows the drill. 

If you can see something coming the other way and you’re approaching a “bulge” you stop at the bulge so the other car can get past. And then you drive on. Everyone’s a winner. 

But where it gets complicated is when there’s a van in front of you. 

Certain drivers think they will get to their destination quicker by driving close to the van in front. But if the van stops at one of the bulges, there is not enough room for the car following to fit in behind. So now you’re in a tight spot. Literally. And that means the cars coming the other way can’t get past. 

 What happens next is that there is lots of huffing and puffing as everyone has to sort out the problem.

Wing mirrors are folded in, cars go into the hedge scraping their paintwork and bit by bit the vehicles somehow edge past each other. We all swear a bit and we are all delayed.  

So basically, one person tried to be a “winner” and ended up causing everyone else (including themselves) to be losers. 

Alternatively, if I see a van ahead of me, I always hang back. That way I can stop at an earlier bulge and let the traffic coming the other way get past me. Therefore, I avoid being the one in that tight spot who causes everyone else to be late (including myself).

 Inevitably, as the traffic clears, I usually end up catching up with the van in front by the time we get to the other end of the country road. 

 Hanging back might have seemed like it was delaying me, but it hasn’t. By initially “losing” and letting others through, we all (including me) end up being winners.

I like to think that our business has approached the current crisis in the same way. Many of our competitors have furloughed large numbers of their staff. They’ve definitely saved money compared to us. 

At the same time, we put huge numbers of hours into researching any and every issue we thought was relevant to our clients and might help.

 But I like to think that by losing money and losing hours (and weekends) of our lives that we will never get back that we will still win in the end. Hopefully most of our clients’ businesses will survive. The testimonials tell us that we’re already getting more referrals for new business. One of my partners has got a new client from a competitor who three weeks ago was actually closed! Just when his clients need him the most. 

But that’s all very easy for us to say when there’s a big demand for the help we can give. What if your industry is crippled by the current situation?  

There are still things you can do. The first is to focus on relationships. There might not be any income to be generated now but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be in the future. 

I get loads of emails from other professionals in all sorts of fields. If they’re sending me information that’s useful to me or my clients even if it’s not right now, I will often save it somewhere. If they’re just trying to sell their services, right click, Junk, Block sender. It’s really easy. I want to work with other professionals who have a win-win mindset. They’re the ones I can trust to look after a client if the need ever arises. 

Whatever you do, there will be people out there who have the same sort of customers as you but do something different to you. They’re the people you should be trying to build relationships with now. Find out if they are the sort of businesses you would recommend to your customers. Hopefully you’ll be the sort of business they will recommend to their customers.

To steal the final line from the film Casablanca, “this could be the start of a beautiful friendship”.

It’s also important to adapt your business to forget sales and focus on value. People are only motivated by the avoidance of pain or the gaining of pleasure. Which of those does your product or service deliver?

Of course, all of this seems ridiculously trivial compared to people losing their lives. 

But when lockdown ends and the economy starts to slowly unthaw, the owner-managers of the country will be required more than ever. To employ people, to collect all that PAYE and VAT and pay it to HMRC to pay for all this and to be flexible enough to fill demands for new products and services. 

And when that happens, we will all know who we can trust and who we want to do business with.”

So, a year later, I guess you all found the answer to who you can trust and who you can do business with. And hopefully they did too.

Not all of them will of course. Some of those employees whose jobs you protected will still be off at the first whiff of a slightly better paid job elsewhere. But they were probably the ones you invested the most time in training but still blamed their own errors on someone else.

Some of those customers you helped out in your own time at no or minimal cost will still demand discounts even when they are doing well again. But then they were the ones who always complained the most when something wasn’t completely perfect. Those for whom an apology wasn’t enough (even though you knew the problem was really their fault). And when the discounts and credit notes become the norm, they’ll demand compensation.

You can’t win with those people. Unless it’s in court. Expensive. Or after they’ve left. Cheaper.

But most people aren’t like that. They’re the ones you want in your team. They’re the ones you want as customers. They’re the ones you want to build long-term effective relationships with.

If the Pandemic has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that most people have a win-win mindset.

In the next 12 months you just need to find more of those people.

Whilst keeping an eye out for the ones that don’t.

Have a good weekend.

Contact me today!

Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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