9 Examples of Lose-Lose Situations in the Workplace

A lose-lose situation is a term that describes the circumstance in which both parties lose instead of one winning and the other losing. There are many different types of lose-lose situations, but they all boil down to the same basic idea: two people or groups get nothing.

This can have long-term negative effects in the workplace, as team members and colleagues will still need to work together after the conflict has been resolved. Accepting a lose-lose situation might not actually solve the underlying problem, which could occur again.

Searching for solutions that bring some degree of satisfaction to all parties in order to temporarily or partially resolve the conflict. This approach occasionally results in a lose-lose situation.


9 Lose-Lose Situation Workplace Examples

Delivering No Value Projects

In waterfall projects, it can be common to finish a project even though after inception, it has been determined that the project doesn’t bring any value due to unforeseen circumstances or a change in market demand. Still, the team completes the project even though it costs the company money. Agile project management helps make plans that are adaptable for situations like this.

Promoting Team Members to Senior Roles

If two people are competing for the same job or just a promotion at their jobs, they could negotiate that one person gets it, but then the next year, they will rotate back and take over the position (so there would be no hard feelings between them). They could agree with this because maybe after working for a while, they might realize how much more responsibility comes with the job and decide not to fight for it anymore. However, negotiation cannot always solve the problem.

No Time for Retrospectives

Teams that don’t self-reflect and learn because they don’t have time and are unwilling to slow down to go faster end up unproductive for the company and create a team of busy bees. Sprint Retrospectives can help avoid this.

Team Planning Poker Session

An example of a lose-lose situation is if you were playing planning poker with someone unwilling to accept the rest of the team’s estimate. As all members are to agree on the forecast, this can result in lengthy discussions and back and forth arguments. Accepting the estimate might impact the plan for the upcoming sprint, but wasting all the team members’ time isn’t good either, so the scrum master might suggest doing a tech task in the next sprint vs. the actual task, which delays the plan and requires the team member to do further analysis.

Sharing Team Leadership

Two people want to be the engineering manager of the development team, but neither of them can take on that responsibility at once. One has been doing better than the other. Still, instead of promoting them, they decide to encourage both equally, which eventually leads to conflict between them because there is no clear leader of the company.

Internal Resource War

Two departments have projects that they want to deliver but there is only one pool of resources. One department exaggerates the business value to get the project prioritized. The business loses an opportunity with the other department and the other department loses creditability as team members know they exaggerated the benefit.

Burning out Team Members

A project manger needs to decide if they want to delay their project to avoid burning out the team members. It will result in missing a deadline or else it will result in a unproductive team.

Accepting Incomplete Features

A team delivers a feature on time and within budget, but it’s not complete, so it’s proposed as an MVP. The MVP gets accepted but never gets allocated to be worked on again because the project manager marks it complete.

Team Member Conflict

If two work colleagues disagree and cannot find common ground, they will eventually lose their relationship, which would create an additional problem for both of them. A lose-lose situation could be to agree to disagree and go their separate ways.

3 Reasons to Accept Lose-Lose Situations

It would be best to accept the situation when you have someone unwilling to work together to find a solution for both parties to win. This can also be used when just one party wants to resolve the situation without compromising with the other party involved.

  1. Helps with a concentration on this one thing you are doing. When it becomes too hard, or someone looks at you funny, you can block them out after some training time.
  2. Allows achieving our full potential in life instead of focusing on what we think is bad. We focus on the good, which makes us feel better about ourselves and creates a positive force inside us that helps us fight harder for what we want in life (this is me getting deep into psychology here).
  3. It’s an excellent way to avoid fights and problems with people because usually, in a lose-lose situation, somebody has to give up something.

Alternatives Lose-Lose Situation

Win-win situation

  • A win-win situation: you are working with someone on a project, but they take too long to finish it, so you have to start without them.
  • Win-win situation: two people competing for the same promotion can negotiate that one person gets it, but then the following year, they will rotate back and take over the position (so there would be no hard feelings between them).

Win-lose situation

  • Win-lose situation: one person gets the job, but the other is left with nothing.
  • Win-lose situation: you are fighting for something that someone else wants, and they are unwilling to compromise, so you cannot reach an agreement.

Lose-Lose FAQs

What is lose-lose approach?

It is an approach to conflict resolution where both parties lose something. This can be done by looking for a third party or an arbitrator to help mediate and find common ground between the two. If this still does not work, the last resort would be to go to court.

What is lose-lose situation in negotiation?

It is a situation where two parties cannot negotiate and reach an agreement. This can be due to several reasons, such as a lack of trust, bad communication, or unwillingness to compromise. If this happens, the two parties will need to find another way to solve their problem.

Why is compromising called a lose-lose method?

Compromising is often seen as a lose-lose method because both parties give up something to reach an agreement. This can be harmful to both parties because they may not get what they want out of the agreement, damaging their relationship with each other.

Which conflict resolution technique is most effective PMP?

The most effective conflict resolution technique is “compromising” because it will help the people involved reach an agreement to move forward with their lives. This is because both parties can find a solution that benefits everyone involved, which helps prevent future conflicts from happening.

What is the difference between smoothing and compromising?

Smoothing is when one party gives in to the other party’s demands, while compromising is when both parties come together to find a solution that benefits everyone involved. This is why compromising is seen as more effective because it helps prevent future conflicts.

Understanding Lose-Lose Situation in Conflict

What is No-Win Situation | Explained in 2 min


By learning the definition of win-win, win-lose, and lose-lose situations, you can show someone the importance of finding common ground when resolving an issue. More info on 4 Types of Organizational Conflict (Levels)

Also, understanding what compromise means and the difference between smoothing and compromising will better equip you with negotiation tools.

When both parties are willing to work together, they can often reach a beneficial resolution for all involved. However, using one of the other two techniques may be the best solution when this is impossible.

Our final 4 tips to to remember when you are in a lose lose situation…

  1. We all do it because we get into them with other people.
  2. There are cases when someone else brings a lose lose situation to us, but we usually manage to get ourselves into them.
  3. People with little self-confidence and high self-esteem help create more of this kind of situation because they compete for everything that makes lose-lose happen (they want things for themselves bad that they don’t care if somebody has to lose).
  4. The person who started this lose-lose situation is responsible for keeping it alive (negotiation between the two or fighting till one side wins), but if he gives up, everybody is happy again. If not, then nobody knows what will happen.
Shane Drumm

Shane Drumm

Shane Drumm, holding certifications in PMP®, PMI-ACP®, CSM, and LPM, is the author behind numerous articles featured here. Hailing from County Cork, Ireland, his expertise lies in implementing Agile methodologies with geographically dispersed teams for software development projects. In his leisure, he dedicates time to web development and Ironman triathlon training. Find out more about Shane on shanedrumm.com and please reach out and connect with Shane on LinkedIn.

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