The Confusion between Winning and Success (by Joe L. Cope)

I teach negotiation. Here are the most common student expectations I hear:

            I want to learn . . .

  • to negotiate great deals for me and for my organization.
  • to manipulate others into doing what is best for me.
  • to avoid exploitation and come out on top of all my negotiations.
  • to make certain that my “piece of the pie” is at least a little bit larger than someone else’s.

The common thread? Winning.

Competition and winning are not wrong in appropriate contexts. Preparing and going for the win is a powerful motivational force. It allows us to better ourselves and, hopefully, others. However, confusing the simplistic feat of winning with the complex and rich achievement of success is a major concern.

A recent example was played out in Ferguson, Missouri following the death of Michael Brown and the civil unrest that erupted. During a confrontation with a law enforcement officer, Michael Brown, an African American, was shot and died from his injuries. Immediate outrage from the largely African American community led to both peaceful protests and civil unrest.

Michael Brown’s death was a tragedy regardless of how you feel about the right or wrong of the immediate circumstances. Any loss of life is a tragedy. But his death was also an opening to move forward on the more important questions for us as a society. Yet, vocal and often caustic factions emerged who were fixated on the simplistic desire to win on a single issue: Was the officer justified in using lethal force?

Determination of what happened was important, of course. Decisions had to be made to settle the legal issues. But many people placed too much emphasis on which side “won.” Their vision seemed to be totally restricted to a single dimension. Their fixation on that justification did not address the larger concerns regarding systemic racism or answer the deeper questions of why disturbing patterns have emerged. Thankfully, the intensity of the moment and the desire for success overcame the simplicity of winning in the moment. Larger questions are being asked and answered. Success is being valued above mere winning.

Ultimate success is the accomplishment of a desired outcome in a way that sustains and further encourages progress toward a better future. Winning is merely being right or better than another at a given moment in time. Winning in the moment must never be confused with ultimate success.


Joe L. Cope is a Texas attorney who changed his approach to conflict resolution from the courtroom to collaboration. Since 2000, Joe has worked with individuals and organizations around the world to introduce solutions and reconciliation based on restored trust and better understanding. As the founding executive directory of the Duncum Center for Conflict Resolution at ACU, much of his work has been with churches embroiled in conflict. Joey blogs at http://joeycope.com and http://peacebytes.org.

We believe that learning is a lifelong process and that those of us who teach make a commitment to continue our learning throughout our lives. The Adams Center exists to promote the lifelong learning of Abilene Christian University’s faculty as they strive to integrate their faith and their discipline.

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CHARIS hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. The website is intended to support education for Christian life and community through contemporary discussions and historical sources that variously witness to the gifts (“charis”) of God among Churches of Christ, especially their plea for visible unity among Christians through ongoing renewal and restoration of Scriptural beliefs and practices among God’s people.

The CHARIS website is supported by Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX, USA), the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The purpose of CHARIS at ACU is to seek God’s blessings for a healthy relationship between the Christian college/university – its faculty, staff, and students – and the church heritage that gives identity and meaning to such a school. This underlying concern for Christian colleges/universities, and their relationship to the churches, is reflected in the form and content of the CHARIS website.

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