Russia has engaged in the ultimate hardball tactic: it invaded Ukraine. Watching this invasion unfold reminded me of hardball negotiations and tactics.

As defined in The Business Professor,  “hardball  tactics”:

…are measures used in a negotiation to set a competitive tone. It generally involves using some form or power, leverage, or persuasion to coerce the other party into changing their objectives, expectations, or position in the negotiation. 

Hardball tactics are generally poorly received and should be used sparingly in any negotiation. These measures can, however, be effective in single deals or transactions where there is no expectation of continued dealings or building a relationship. (Id.)

 One example is “playing chicken” or “… combining a large bluff with a threatened action to force the other party to chicken out and give in to a request.” (Id.) Another is “intimidation” or “an attempt to force the other party to agree by means of an emotional ploy. “(Id.)  A third is “aggressive behavior” which includes “…a relentless push for further concessions ….” (Id.)

Other examples are listed in a Harvard  PON blog post dated October 11, 2021., Such tactics include making extreme demands followed up by small slow concessions, a take-it or leave-it negotiation strategy, trying to make you flinch, personal insults, bluffing, puffing and lying, threats and warnings, and belittling your alternatives.

As noted above, such tactics are used in a competitive or distributive bargaining setting; that is, in a zero-sum game where one party wins and the other loses.

This zero-sum game is precisely what is being played out on the world stage today. Prior to invading Ukraine, Putin tried several hardball tactics. He made extreme demands including that Ukraine not be invited into NATO but made no concessions, not even small ones. His “diplomatic” negotiations with the West- if one can call them that- were definitely on a take it or leave it basis. While the West tried to use integrative or interest- based bargaining via diplomacy, Putin was not really interested. During such diplomatic talks, his representatives bluffed and lied about Putin’s true intentions, stating he had no intention to invade Ukraine while at the same time amassing over 100,000 troops and building field hospitals along Ukraine’s borders. His ultimate lie was his excuse for the invasion itself, claiming it to be in self-defense and at the request of the separatists.  And once the invasion started, Putin threatened the West by stating that if it dared interfere with his “special military operation,” the West would see consequences unmatched in history. To say the least, Putin’s behavior has been the epitome of hardball tactics: aggressive, bullying and a very unnerving zero-sum game in which should he win, over 44 million Ukrainians will lose. And because of the sanctions being imposed by the West on Russia, over 144 million Russian citizens will also suffer.

None of us know how this zero-sum game will turn out. Like any distributive bargaining negotiation, while Putin may “enjoy” short term gains, his long-term losses will be much much greater. The rest of the world will punish him severely for using such hardball tactics on innocent people. As The Business Professor quote notes, such tactics are not very effective where one expects to have continued dealings or a relationship with the adversary. And as much as Putin may disagree, we are all in this world together.

… Just something to think about.


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