There is a phrase I have heard quite a bit recently dealing with people that are leaving the department for promotions, etc. When a person leaves, it is good for them, but bad for us.

It is good for them because they will be pursuing a new opportunity, but not so good for the department since they will have to be replaced, and others will have to pick up the slack until someone else can be hired and get up to speed.

Is there a word that means that a deal is good for one party, but not necessarily the other?

  • I can't answer in a single word, but I can in two: unilateral benefit. Is that good enough?
    – cobaltduck
    Feb 11, 2016 at 15:34
  • expropriation : the taking of rightfully owned property by another against the owners wishes; thievery. Feb 11, 2016 at 15:41
  • sold a bill of goods : agreeing to contractual arrangements with another with unilateral benefits to the other party; an arrangement entered into almost exclusively by deception. Feb 11, 2016 at 15:42
  • taxation : (same as expropriation) The taking of rightfully owned property by another against the rightful owner's wishes; thievery. Feb 11, 2016 at 15:43
  • hostile takeover : corporate acquisition or merger which is carried out against the wishes of the board (and usually management) of the target company. Feb 11, 2016 at 15:46

6 Answers 6


Is double-edged the word you're after?

double-edged: capable of acting in two ways or having opposite effects or interpretation. Random House

double-edged/two-edged sword: Fig. something that offers both a good and bad consequence. The ability to get your insurance to pay for it is a double-edged sword. They may raise your rates. Her authority in the company is a two-edged sword. She makes more enemies than allies. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs


You might also consider "a mixed blessing".

  • 1
    I think "mixed bag" may be a better fit in this case, considering 'mixed blessing' tends to mean that the overall impact is good, whereas mixed bag keeps it pretty ambiguous. That said, this is probably OP's best bet thus far
    – Kanga_Roo
    Feb 11, 2016 at 15:28

A Zero-sum game, quoting wikipedia, is according to game theory:

a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant's gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s). If the total gains of the participants are added up and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.

This leads on to concept of social traps (aging quoting wikipedia) ...

In psychology, a social trap is a situation in which a group of people act to obtain short-term individual gains, which in the long run leads to a loss for the group as a whole. Examples of social traps include overfishing, [...] and the destruction of the rainforest by logging interests and agriculture.

EDIT : I just realized this partly duplicates @al-maki's answer, but I'll leave mine as the quotes may be helpful.


I have two answers to your final question but neither applies to your specific situation.

Your situation is the opposite of Bob Dylan's phrase "Your loss will be our gain."

Another phrase that is applicable when there is a transaction or interaction between the two parties is "zero-sum game".


Not a single word answer, and a bit frivolous, but "of asymmetrical benefit" occurs to me.

  • 1
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    – user140086
    Feb 12, 2016 at 4:50

One man's meat is another man's poison.

What is good for one person may be bad for another; what is pleasant to one person may be unpleasant to another.

Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Note: It is not a single word but you also mentioned "phrase" in the question body. Anyway, this phrase might fit better than a single word.

Note2: This phrase/proverb is usually for "things" rather than "situations". For example, the things liked or enjoyed by one person may be not be liked or enjoyed by another person.

You can consider cut both ways also.

to have two different effects at the same time, usually one good and one bad (never in continuous tenses)

Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed.. (2006). Retrieved February 11 2016 from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cut+both+ways

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