What is 'Brinkmanship'

Brinkmanship is a negotiating technique where one party aggressively pursues a set of terms so that the other party must either agree or disengage. Brinkmanship (or, less commonly, "brinksmanship") is so named because one party pushes the other to the "brink" or edge of what that party is willing to accommodate. As a negotiation strategy, brinkmanship is often used by companies and union negotiators in labor negotiations and stoppages or strikes, by diplomats, and by businesspeople looking to get a better deal.

Breaking Down 'Brinkmanship'

At its core, brinkmanship is seeking success in a negotiation by being unreasonable. The rewards from brinkmanship are potentially greater than in a more amiable negotiation, since the more aggressive party is more likely to gain better terms if their strategy is successful. Companies or individuals pursuing a brinkmanship approach to negotiating may do it as a bluff; they may be willing to accept more equitable terms but want to see if they can have it entirely their way first. In politics and diplomacy, brinkmanship involves two parties allowing a dispute to progress to the point of near-disaster before a negotiated solution is even considered or discussed. In effect, it is like playing "chicken" to see which party will back down first.

Brinkmanship Risks

Brinkmanship is as controversial as it is risky. While it may occasionally yield more favorable terms in some negotiations, it may also create long-term resentment among business partners and employees. It may even go so far as to alienate an opposing party and cause a failure in negotiations in which no party does business and a business relationship cannot be salvaged for many years to come.

Brinkmanship Tips

Even if brinkmanship is an aggressive practice, it may yield results for the aggressor. They key is to reduce the chances of a business relationship being irreparably harmed by using it. When negotiating with a vendor or supplier using brinkmanship, an aggressor should make sure they have a backup plan in case the vendor or suppler decides to disengage. Brinkmanship should also be employed at the beginning of a negotiation; if used toward the end of a negotiation it will display a lack of good faith and invariably anger the other party. Brinkmanship should only be used when a relationship has been developed; using it too early will compel any prospective business partner or vendor to walk away because they have yet to invest any time or effort. Negotiators should also be realistic; asking for massive discount from a supplier may be economically unviable for them and could end negotiations entirely.

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