How To Achieve Win-Win. Cooperative vs. Competitive Communication

As social creatures, we humans are dependent on communication with others about the most diverse topics. We have the cognitive and psychological ability to see the world from a variety of standpoints and to reach cooperative end results.

Empathy allows us to evaluate, understand, and even adopt another person’s point of view.  We are able to set our selfish short-term interests aside and do things together, for a common purpose. This is the foundation of cooperation.

The key to cooperative communication is approaching the other as an equal partner, from whom we might actually learn a thing or two, instead of trying to manipulate or coerce people into adopting our position.

According to Marita Pabst-Weinschenk, a German communication theorist, constructive communication avoids the competitive approach and focuses instead on relationship symmetry, dialogue, and a readiness to find common ground while disagreeing. 

Competitive communication is confrontational, person-centered and position-oriented. Cooperative communication accepts compromise, is looking for consensus and objective criteria, is tolerant, separates people from the problem, and negotiates interests not positions. 

Competitive communication is one-sided and manipulative, trying to impose a point of view as the only acceptable one. By contrast, cooperation in communication uses pros and cons to argue sensibly, can accept error, and is open to new visions.

The competitive communicator behaves in an authoritarian manner and feels the need to dominate at any cost, while the cooperative partner is capable of listening and calmly accepting other points of view as legitimate. Cooperative communicators are usually more self-confident and have an adequate self-worth, while domineering interlocutors are usually insecure. 

Cooperation in communication is not only more ethical, but also more pragmatic and necessary. While competitive communication is adversarial and destructive, taking criticism personally and remaining focus on “destroying” the other party, cooperative communication understands that one usually arrives at better, long-lasting deals and more constructive solutions if everyone is co-involved and motivated. It looks to convince, rather than force – and thus achieves a longer-term win-win.

(Source: Marita Pabst-Weinschenk: Kooperative Rhetorik – kompakt, pabst press, Alpen 2011, p. 11-18)

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