What is Brinkmanship?

Brinkmanship is a negotiating strategy in which one party aggressively pursues a set of terms in order to force the other party to agree or disengage. Brinkmanship is named after the act of one party pushing the other to the "brink" or edge of what that party is willing to accommodate. 

Brinkmanship is a negotiation strategy that is frequently used by companies and union negotiators in labour negotiations and stoppages (or strikes), by diplomats, and by business people seeking a better deal.

At its core, brinkmanship is the practise of being unreasonable in order to achieve success in a negotiation. The rewards from brinkmanship may be greater than those from a more friendly negotiation because the more aggressive party is more likely to obtain better terms if their strategy is successful

Companies or individuals who pursue a brinkmanship approach to negotiating may do so as a bluff; they may be willing to accept more equitable terms but want to see if they can get everything their way first. Brinkmanship in politics and diplomacy refers to two parties allowing a dispute to escalate to the point of near-disaster before considering or discussing a negotiated solution.

What are the risks associated with brinkmanship?

Brinkmanship is as contentious as it is dangerous. While it may result in more favourable terms in some negotiations on occasion, it may also create long-term resentment among business partners and employees. 

This is especially problematic when the same parties interact repeatedly across multiple deals over time, or when similar negotiations with multiple parties are involved. A negotiating party can gain a reputation for pursuing a brinkmanship strategy. 

It may even go so far as to alienate an opposing party, resulting in a failure of negotiations in which no party does business and a business relationship that cannot be salvaged for many years.

Tips for brinkmanship

Even if brinkmanship is an aggressive practise, the aggressor may benefit from it. The key is to reduce the possibility of a business relationship being irreparably harmed as a result of its use. 

When using brinkmanship to negotiate with a vendor or supplier, an aggressor should have a backup plan in place in case the vendor or supplier decides to disengage.

Brinkmanship should also be used at the start of a negotiation; using it at the end will show a lack of good faith and will invariably irritate the other party.

Brinkmanship should be used only after a relationship has been established; using it too early will cause any prospective business partner or vendor to walk away because they have not yet invested any time or effort. 

Negotiators should also be realistic; asking for a massive discount from a supplier may be economically unviable for them and may result in the negotiations being terminated entirely.

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