In elections and sports, there is only one winner. Playing win-lose in your real estate business, however, is a losing proposition for all involved that traps you in a dangerous up-down spiral. On the other hand, playing win-win opens up a world of possibility for obtaining a positive outcome for both you and your clients.

  • Researchers have concluded that winning can be as dangerous as losing.
  • Increased cortisol levels are associated with stress-related diseases like cancer and heart disease.
  • To break the up-down spiral and escape the win-lose game, step into the realm of possibility.

In elections and sports, there is only one winner. Playing win-lose in your real estate business, however, is a losing proposition for all involved that traps you in a dangerous up-down spiral.

On the other hand, playing win-win opens up a world of possibilities for obtaining a positive outcome for both you and your clients.

Several years ago, I heard Boston Philharmonic Conductor Benjamin Zander give an extraordinary keynote speech that explained how playing win-lose in any aspect of your life could trap you in “a dangerous up-down spiral.”

Win-lose is actually no-win for anyone

In an article called “These Two Hormones Divide Winners from Losers,” researchers conclude that winning can be as dangerous as losing. Although optimal amounts of testosterone result in winning, the “winner’s elixir” results from up to a 1,000 percent hike in testosterone that creates a self-reinforcing upward spiral characterized by cockiness, over confidence and poor decision making.

The result is what neuroscientist Lord David Owen calls “hubris syndrome,” where repeated winning leads to messianic zeal, excessive self-confidence, contempt for others and reckless and impulsive actions. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan described this phenomenon as “irrational exuberance.”

Couple this with the fight-or-flight response where adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) levels spike, and the result is a dangerous biological cocktail that can quickly escalate into a serious confrontation. Hubris syndrome is the exact opposite of the calm, collaborative and service-oriented demeanor that is most highly correlated with real estate sales success.

What happens when you win and your clients lose

Everyone is familiar with the crestfallen look of a losing team. For the losing side, their testosterone levels plunge while their cortisol levels soar even higher than they were during the initial fight-or-flight response. Increased cortisol levels are associated with stress-related diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

When the winner loses

What’s fascinating is that when the winner loses, he or she will have even further to fall compared to those who lost initially.

In other words, their losses are even more devastating than they would be if they had never won in the first place.

The resulting plunge in testosterone destroys their self-confidence. Instead, they often develop an irrational risk aversion — they find danger where none exists. This results in decisions as dangerous as hubris syndrome.

Avoid playing win-lose with your clients

The key to generating referrals and having happy, satisfied clients is creating collaborative, win-win situations. This approach avoids major testosterone spikes as well as reducing the amount of cortisol that your client is already experiencing due to moving. Here’s what to do:

1. Shift your story and become a conduit of information

Zander’s answer to breaking the up-down spiral and escaping the win-lose game is to step into the realm of possibility. To do this, avoid situations where there are only two choices (win-lose). Instead, master the art of possibility by constantly focusing on unique ways to contribute to others.

An excellent way to do this is to shift your story from being the expert to being a conduit of information. Your goal is always to provide the best possible information to your clients so that they can make the best possible decision.

After all, it’s their house, it’s their mortgage, and it’s their decision. When you take this approach, you create a win-win no matter what your clients decide.

To illustrate this point, I remember having an attorney buyer who was adamant about buying a 70-year old fourplex that had a serious foundation problem. I knew he was walking into a money pit scenario and recommended that he obtain a bid for the work.

When the bid came back, he was stunned and he cancelled the sale. He was extremely grateful that I had helped him to avoid a very costly mistake.

The win-win? He never did buy a property from me, but I did close $2 million in transactions from his referrals.

2. Learn to use the phrase, ‘How fascinating!’

Most people fear making a mistake or looking foolish. Zander says these fears result in a “downward spiral.” In contrast, when Zander or one his students make a mistake, his approach is to shout, “How fascinating!”

Now you might not be ready to shout, “How fascinating!” the next time you make a major mistake, but rather than becoming angry or berating yourself for doing poorly, what would it be like if you approached the situation by asking yourself about other possibilities besides losing?

For example, if you worked hard for nine months to sell a listing, and it expired, instead of being angry or resigned to the situation, you could ask, “What new possibilities are open to me now that listing is no longer taking up so much of my time and money?”

Or, “Is it time for a much needed vacation?”

In either case, the questions open up an abundance of possibilities while simultaneously freeing you from the up-down spiral.

3. Don’t take yourself so seriously

Zander says the key to the kingdom of possibility is: “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” When you are committed to being right, you’re invested in “win-lose.”

When you commit to being a conduit of information and supporting your clients in making the best possible choices for their specific situation, you move to win-win, everyone experiences less stress, and your happy clients will be much more likely to refer business to you in the future.

Now that you know how to avoid win-lose situations, go out and find the opportunities that allow you to find win-win situations. You and your clients will be much happier for it.

Bernice Ross, CEO of, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles and two best-selling real estate books. Learn about her training programs at and

Email Bernice Ross.

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