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LESSONS FROM SUN TSE


The occasion of my annual teaching gig in Beijing this week gives me an occasion to reflect again on Sun Tse’s famous Rules of War and their alternative expression in the 36 “Chinese Negotiation Stratagems.” While I believe that negotiation is a dance and a creative challenge rather than war, this is not the sort of stuff that I teach. Bu as it is based on a profound understanding of power and its expression in human nature, it must be taken seriously.

I guess my three favorites of the Thirty Six are:

Lure Him on the Roof and Take Away the Ladder. The ultimate in intelligent manipulation, here the canny negotiator charts out a way ahead for his opponent and then leads his guileless victim down a path which can end only in capitulation to his demands. It is a bit like a chess game.

Sit By the River and Watch the House Burn Down. Using time in a more passive way: rather than imposing deadlines, simply stretch them. Do not answer the email, do not be available, and things will often sort themselves out in your favor. There is a lot of truth in this. But passive manipulation is of course just as problematic as active.

Muddy the Water to Catch the Fish. This obfuscation with overwhelming and irrelevant facts and figures rings true in Teutonic cultures as well (!), not because they are effective in persuading to action but because they distract from what is essential. And the metaphor is very arresting indeed.

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