Walnut Creek, CA: During a recent complicated and difficult mediation I was attempting to explain to one of the parties how much he had to gain from offering to his soon to be ex-wife what he thought was far too great a concession. From my neutral perspective I could see that if he gave up totally on what were important, but not critical, points of contention, he might experience a breakthrough in negotiations that would ultimately secure his most important goals in the divorce.
I was struggling to make my point and then I remembered the cogent words of the ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu is widely recognized as the author of the timeless work, The Art of War. A brilliant philosophy for managing conflict and purposely influencing events published sometime around the second century before the Common Era.
Quoting from General Sun’s masterpiece:
“Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.”
Everyone involved in negotiation would do well to embrace this philosophy. You must make it easy and attractive for your “opponent” to take the steps you want them to take.
You must also keep in mind that this is no ordinary bridge you are building, it is a golden bridge. Gold is expensive. It has value to everyone. This means that there is sacrifice involved in its construction and there is value to the recipient. Overall, even though the bridge is made of gold, and very valuable to you, it is better to give it to the other side to use and avoid war. To put it another way, in a negotiation you may be providing the other side something they treasure in order to achieve your ultimate goal. Victory without battle.
Mediation, like so many things in life, is a negotiation. It is unrealistic and immature to expect to always get what you want in a negotiation without giving something in return. Learn from the classic master of strategy and tactics in how to effectively manage confrontation and pave the way to peace by showing your “opponent” a very attractive escape route that also achieves your goals.
David D. Stein has been an attorney for over 20 years and is the founder of Liaise® Mediated Solutions. He is a trained mediator, dispute resolution specialist and lecturer on non-violent conflict management techniques and tools.