 Septima Poinsette Clark
By Brad Spangler January 2013 Original Publication September 2003, updated January 2013 by Heidi Burgess 

The Basics
Winwin, winlose, and loselose are game theory terms that refer to the possible outcomes of a game or dispute involving two sides, and more importantly, how each side perceives their outcome relative to their standing before the game. For example, a "win" results when the outcome of a negotiation is better than expected, a "loss" when the outcome is worse than expected. Two people may receive the same outcome in measurable terms, say $10, but for one side that may be a loss, while for the other it is a win. In other words, expectations determine one's perception of any given result. Winwin outcomes occur when each side of a dispute feels they have won. Since both sides benefit from such a scenario, any resolutions to the conflict are likely to be accepted voluntarily. The process of integrative bargaining aims to achieve, through cooperation, winwin outcomes. Winlose situations result when only one side perceives the outcome as positive. Thus, winlose outcomes are less likely to be accepted voluntarily. Distributive bargaining processes, based on a principle of competition between participants, are more likely than integrative bargaining to end in winlose outcomesor they may result in a situation where each side gets part of what he or she wanted, but not as much as they might have gotten if they had used integrative bargaining. Loselose means that all parties end up being worse off. An example of this would be a budgetcutting negotiation in which all parties lose money. The intractable budget debates in Congress in 201213 are example of loselose situations. Cuts are essentialthe question is where they will be made and who will be hurt. In some loselose situations, all parties understand that losses are unavoidable and that they will be evenly distributed. In such situations, loselose outcomes can be preferable to winlose outcomes because the distribution is at least considered to be fair.[1] In other situations, though, loselose outcomes occur when winwin outcomes might have been possible. The classic example of this is called the prisoner's dilemma in which two prisoners must decide whether to confess to a crime. Neither prisoner knows what the other will do. The best outcome for prisoner A occurs if he/she confesses, while prisoner B keeps quiet. In this case, the prisoner who confesses and implicates the other is rewarded by being set free, and the other (who stayed quiet) receives the maximum sentence, as s/he didn't cooperate with the police, yet they have enough evidence to convict. (This is a winlose outcome.) The same goes for prisoner B. But if both prisoners confess (trying to take advantage of their partner), they each serve the maximum sentence (a loselose outcome). If neither confesses, they both serve a reduced sentence (a winwin outcome, although the win is not as big as the one they would have received in the winlose scenario). This situation occurs fairly often, as winwin outcomes can only be identified through cooperative (or integrative) bargaining, and are likely to be overlooked if negotiations take a competitive distributive) stance. The key thing to remember is that any negotiation may be reframed (placed in a new context) so that expectations are lowered. In the prisoner's dilemma, for example, if both prisoners are able to perceive the reduced sentence as a win rather than a loss, then the outcome is a winwin situation. Thus, with lowered expectations, it may be possible for negotiators to craft winwin solutions out of a potentially loselose situation. However, this requires that the parties sacrifice their original demands for lesser ones. [1] The above definitions were drawn from: Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess, Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (Denver: ABCCLIO, 1997), 306307, 309310. <http://www.amazon.com/EncyclopediaConflictResolutionHeidiBurgess/dp/0874368391>. Use the following to cite this article: Spangler, Brad. "WinWin, WinLose, and LoseLose Situations." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: June 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/winlose>. 