I have spent over twenty-five years now studying, practicing, and teaching martial arts. This includes time spent in the United States Army and living in Japan and Korea studying martial arts there. Two important concepts that I have studied, taught, and written about in a martial or military format are equally important when teaching negotiation. These concepts are strategy and tactics. Sometimes I see people mistakenly using one term when they actually mean the other. In this short article, I want to describe the differences between strategy and tactics as well as illustrate the relationship between the two.
Strategy is the overall, big picture, plan, which includes goals or desired outcomes. In the military, strategy is the utilization, during both peace and war, or all of a nation’s forces, through large-scale, long-range planning and development, to ensure security or victory. Another definition would be a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result. A well known strategy used by the Allies in WWII was that of strategic bombing in Europe. The Army Air Corps’ strategic bombing doctrine was based on the theory that a bombing force could pound the adversary until its industrial base was destroyed, and with it, its ability and will to wage war. While this example helps illustrate the concept of strategy, it is unfortunate that many of us have probably encountered negotiators that worked from a very similar strategic doctrine.
Strategic negotiation is simply the act of devising and carrying out a well thought out plan to achieve your desired outcomes. Often, it is your plan to convince another party to give you something that you want and on your terms. The first thing you must determine when developing a negotiation strategy is what do you really want? What is the purpose of the negotiation? Do you want to purchase a house or commercial building? Do you want a raise in your salary? Do you want to settle a matter that is being litigated? Once you know what you want, and have devised a strategy, you can implement the tactics that will help you achieve your desired outcome.
When one is developing strategy, it is often easier to break your planning into phases. Here is a simple model used with martial arts and warfare that you will notice fits with negotiating equally well:
1. Identify your strategic objectives
2. Collect intelligence
3. Plan for environment
4. Program for engagement
Tactics are simply the means by which you carry out your strategy. In the military tactics deals with the use and deployment of troops in actual combat, more specifically, it is the military science that deals with securing objectives set by strategy, especially the technique of deploying and directing troops, ships, and aircraft in effective maneuvers against an enemy. In our example above with the Army Air Corps, the tight formations employed by the bombers to make the best use of the bombers’ heavy armament and prevent German fighters from singling out and swarming on lone planes is an example of a tactic used to help carry out the strategy. Another tactic was the employment of high altitude bombing when low level bombing proved to vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire.
One must be very careful not to focus upon activity, means, or tactics at the expense of accomplishment, achieving goals, or desired outcomes. Above all else, obtaining one’s objectives in negotiations should be paramount. Of course, the tactics, activities or means we use should always be appropriate and ethical, but we must remember they are merely the ways to attain desired outcomes. Examples of negotiation tactics include things such as:
1. Giving ultimatums
3. Shocked or surprised looks
4. Good cop/Bad cop
5. Walk away
There are many tactics people use while negotiating. There is nothing wrong with using certain tactics to carry out your strategy and obtain your objectives. It is not necessarily unethical, deceptive, or unscrupulous to use negotiating tactics, even though some may want you to believe this. Yes, some tactics may be unethical, and as I stated above, we should always be appropriate and ethical, but there is nothing wrong with being competitive.
No, I have not forgotten the Principled Negotiation strategy taught by Fisher and Ury in “Getting To Yes.” However, I also realize that sometimes we will be in competitive negotiations, and knowing various tactics can give us the edge. As an attorney, I realize some clients hire an attorney to be their pit bull, and while win-win might be the ideal, some of these clients only care about a win in their column. Practically speaking, we attorneys must deliver for our clients if we want to stay in business. In other fields of business, you run across competitive barganing as well, and knowing tactics may be quite beneficial. Additionally, knowing various negotiation tactics, and the counterattacks, prepare us for when others use them against us.
Strategy and tactics are concepts as old as conflict itself. By understanding the differences and relationships between the two, the successful negotiator can better plan and implement the strategies and tactics to reach specific desired outcomes. There is a reason so many successful business people study the ancient military classics such as “The Art of War” and “The Book of Five Rings.” There is a reason why so many successful business people play strategic military games such as Go and Chess. The lessons learned from military sources, especially strategy and tactics, can easily be adapted to help us be better business people, better litigators, and better negotiators.