Jun 3 2005

Making your threats real

I wrote a post about a month a go in my M&A series about drawing lines in the sand (see the original post here).  In it I argued that people negotiating m&adeals are too quick to dig in and make statements that they can’t/don’t intend to back up.  I was reading Ben’s blog today – his latest post references a HBS article on a similar subject that is worth a read.  Here’s the quote that Ben pulled from the article that pretty much sums up its contents.  When you look at the article pay attention to their point # 5 – it’s exactly what I was talking about in my earlier post. “In the classic game of Chicken, two drivers on a crash course speed toward each other. The rules are simple: Whoever swerves first and avoids collision loses, and whoever is brave enough to stay the course wins. Of course, when both drivers stay the course, they collide and die. Clearly, this is not a game for the faint-hearted. But bravado alone doesn’t guarantee a win. Your opponent has to believe that you’re gutsy enough to stay the course, or he may do the same until the very end. How do you win at Chicken? One approach would be to talk tough beforehand. You might behave irrationally to suggest that you wouldn’t swerve even to save your life. Once the game begins, however, your threat simply may not be credible. Now consider this strategy: Once the cars are headed directly toward each other, you unscrew your steering wheel and throw it out the window, making sure that your opponent sees you do it. Foolish? So it would seem, but your threat is now entirely credible. You can’t change course even if you wanted to. It’s up to your opponent to decide whether to lose the game or die. The odds are in your favor.”