It's not how you play the game, it's how you win it


The most important thing I learned about business, I learned playing Monopoly: people want to play with people who are fun to play with. It doesn’t matter if you are really good at the game if you are a colossal pain in the neck. It’s the same in the business game. And let’s be honest with ourselves, much of business is a game. We may be collecting profits and market share instead of hotels on Park Place, but it’s still all about making strategic moves, trying to outsmart your opponent, the thrill of the chase, the sweet taste of victory. And it is still better to play with people who make it enjoyable.

No one wants to play with a cheater, a ruthless winner, or a whiny loser. No one wants to hear crowing for getting ahead or noisy excuses for being behind. Even if you’re hands-down the best player, you’re people won’t want to play with you if you make everyone else feel like a chump. If you’re an unpleasant executive, people will vote with their feet and you’ll experience high turnover. If you’re an unpleasant colleague, you’ll find yourself gradually getting shut out. People won’t keep you in the loop about unofficial happenings, and you’ll get passed over for opportunities in favor of people who are more enjoyable to work with. Your success will gradually dwindle.

This isn’t just an argument about being a good team player. You can be a competitive person in a competitive field and still be enjoyable to compete with. So what do fun competitors do differently? They build goodwill. They are politically astute and diplomatic. They know the value of leaving something on the table when negotiating, and the return on making a concerted effort to see another’s side during conflict. They are good winners, helping others generously when they are in a position to do so. And they’re good losers, congratulating others for successes and not making excuses when they don’t come out on top.

We’ve talked before about how nice guys at work come out on top in the end, and about the dangers of being a jerk at work. This is more along the same lines. But the importance of behaving like a decent bloke in win-lose scenarios matters a good bit more because of the ways our brains process them. As the studies described here show, while winners can comfortably concern themselves with only relative comparisons (I won, they lost), losers also take pains to consider the absolute in order to be satisfied with the outcome (I may have lost this, but at least I got this). Being a good winner means allowing the “loser” to keep something, or at the least, not taking something more away through disrespectful or obnoxious behavior. This also benefits the winner in the long term. The fact is that our worlds are small, and it is likely that you’ll be “in the game” with the same people again in the future. Keeping that big picture in mind, real players know how to be good winners. It breeds respect, and people want – and need – to do business with other people who they respect.

 “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” –Grantland Rice


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