Paradigms of Human Interaction

Stephen R. Covey identified six paradigms of human interaction.  They are:   

  • Win/Win
  • Win/Lose
  • Lose/Win
  • Lose/Lose
  • Win
  • Win/Win or No Deal

Paradigms of Human Interaction

paradigm is a frame of reference or theory that affects how we see and experience a situation.  By definition, it represents a "group of ideas about how something should be done... or thought about."

Although there is an appropriate time to use each paradigm, Win/Win is the preferable approach for those who must work together to achieve maximum results. 

The Six Paradigms


Win/Win is a mindset or approach to a situation that seeks to ensure the interest of all parties are considered.  It is not an "either/or" proposition.

Covey describes Win/Win as "not your way or my way; it's a better way, a higher way." And it leads to what Covey calls the "Third Alternative."

The person who practices this paradigm is: principle-centered, places emphasis on what is right/best for ALL parties involved, and is not focused on getting the "upper-hand" or best deal for themselves.


Win/Lose is where one party asserts their interests over the interests of another.  They subscribe to the "scarcity mentality" and believe "you must lose so that I can win".

This interaction often "feels" highly competitive in nature and destroys teamwork.


Lose/Win means I cooperate with the other person to the degree that I lose so they can win.  In this approach, the "loser" often walks away very resentful.

More often than not, this person chooses to lose in order to avoid conflict.


Lose/Lose is when no one wins; both parties lose and both end up with very hard feelings. 

This approach does not serve to advance positive team dynamics and is very unhealthy for all parties involved.


The person operating with this paradigm says "I want to win.  I don't want you to lose, but getting what you want is your business, not mine." 

They do not actively seek to ensure that the interests of the other party are considered.  

Win/Win or No Deal

The Win/Win or No Deal mindset actively seeks the interests of all parties involved, including theirs. 

It requires a high character ethic, investment of time and lots of two-way communication. 

In the event an agreement suitable to all parties cannot be reached, the only  Win/Win is "No Deal." 

Even if no deal is the best outcome, the intent and engagement of this interaction sets the stage for possible Win/Wins in the future. 


As long as you seek Win/Win in your interactions, it really does not matter which paradigm the other party has. 

Of course it will require strong communication, negotiation and conflict management skills; but the person with skills to obtain Win/Win outcomes will prevail. 

Want to Know More?

These Paradigms of Human Interaction have been compared and contrasted with the five Conflict Management Styles.

They are described in more detail in his book entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Coming January 2024

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About Coach Gwen



Leaders don't







- Tom Peters


7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Five Dysfunctions of a Team
For Your Improvement Coaching Guide