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Tactics of Negotiation in the Military

Tactics of Negotiation in the Military

At the first glance, the concepts of negotiation and the military seem to be completely different and unrelated since the military should be traditionally and primarily occupied with wars and fighting, while negotiation belongs to the realms of business, politics and diplomatic relations. However, this view is not correct, especially in the contemporary world where duties and tasks of the military have been significantly expanded and encompass not only fighting but also peace-making, peace-building, support of humanitarian missions, assistance during all sorts of crises and many other tasks that have little to do with the direct use of weapons and a lot to do with negotiations. Hence, the modern military of the developed countries frequently have to negotiate with the local population, humanitarian organizations, governments of the war-torn countries, crisis intervention groups and the other warring party. Negotiation gradually became an integral part of any soldier’s service, especially of senior officers’ service, over the past two decades. Goals pursued by the military in the process of negotiation can deal with the matters of life and death, which put negotiators under immense pressure and can interfere with the choice of the most reasonable tactics. Besides, a theoretical basis relating to negotiation as it applies to the military is quite scarce because of the relative novelty of the issue. Therefore, there is a need to provide an overview of some key tactics of negotiation used by the military during extreme negotiations. Overall, the military negotiation tactics borrow much from the general negotiation discourse, yet the recent military campaigns allowed researchers and officers to develop effective and efficient strategies of negotiation that are currently being used in all domains of the human activities.

Brief Overview of the Factors Influencing the Choice of Negotiation Tactics and Strategies in the Military

Despite all the similarities that might exist between different types of negotiations occurring in different settings, negotiations involving the military occur under a unique set of circumstances that govern the choice of respective tactics and strategies. However, prior to providing a brief overview of the key factors that influence the choice of such tactics, it seems reasonable to define the notion of negotiation. Undeniably, there are numerous definitions of this concept that focus on the particular aspects relating to the setting and goal, yet there are some that seem to encompass its essence. Hence, “negotiation can be thought of as an effort to resolve a perceived conflict of interest by means of conversation” (Nobel Wortinger, & Hannah, 2007, p. 1). According to the researchers from the US Army Research Institute for the Behavioural and Social Sciences, negotiation should be perceived as “a unique form of social interaction or decision making that involves more than one party, where the parties hold potentially conflicting interests; yet enough interdependence and mutual interests to motivate them to remain in the relationship and complete the exchange” (Nobel et al., 2007, p.1). Besides, it should be noted that negotiation implies “an explicit trade: I get some of what I want, and you get some of what you want” (Wheeler, 2013, p. 24).

The above definitions apply to all kinds of negotiation in all types of settings, yet the negotiation that the military is engaged in usually differs a bit from any other negotiation because of the risks and danger either to both parties or to only one party participating in the process. Military negotiations are also sometimes referred to as “extreme negotiations”, which means that “stakes and risks are especially high” (Weiss & Hughes, 2010, n. p.). Nowadays, the corporate world claims to operate under conditions of extreme negotiations as well, which makes them adopt common military negotiation tactics. Thus, negotiation in the military has some features that make it different from negotiation, for instance, in the business field, which in turn influences the choice of tactics and strategies employed by the negotiator.

One more factor that governs the choice of tactics by a military negotiator is the fact that they always have a number of the demands and imperatives that have been imposed on them by a senior officer or commander (Goodwin, 2005). These demands are prescribed in a mission statement of an operation, operational Rules of Engagement or Standard Operating Procedures and have to be complied with (Goodwin, 2005). On the one hand, it means that military negotiators always have some ultimate goal in mind and can build their negotiation strategies and choose tactics accordingly. On the other hand, it limits the choice of available tactics and strategies as well as independence and flexibility of negotiators. In this regard, military negotiators who comply with the orders and demands remain anonymous as they succeed in their missions, while “history tends to ‘remember’ the soldier who goes against the mission” (Goodwin, 2005, p. 3). However, in order to remain a part of the military, negotiators are obliged to follow instructions even if the latter go against their personal views. In any case, the mission demands and orders influence the choice of tactics and strategies in the process of military negotiations.

Another influential factor in the process of military negotiations is time as soldiers are often given the exact deadlines within which their missions have to be completed and goals are to be achieved. However, this poses a significant difficulty for military negotiators as “one of the indisputable characteristics of negotiation per se is the recognition that ‘it takes as long as it takes’” (Goodwin, 2005, p. 3). Therefore, military negotiators have to balance between these two opposing demands and realize that even though it may be impossible to insist on some deadline for the negotiations, they operate under the time urgency condition. Sometimes, the negotiating parties exploit this time urgency condition to their benefit when they use delaying tactics to protract the process of negotiations to the detriment of the other party. Nonetheless, this is ostly a problem for a military representative in case negotiations are held with the non-military players since the former is limited by a mission brief, mandates, ROEs and time limits, while the other party is not. Since it “is an easy antagonistic ploy to frustrate the military through ‘wasting time’”, military negotiators have to employ tactics that would take this into account and allow them to achieve goals within the set time limits (Goodwin, 2005, p. 4). At the same time, military negotiators have to be resistant to pressure and aware of the impact of the time factor as it can sometimes make them shift away from the cooperative negotiation tactics and adopt an aggressive approach, hence render the negotiations useless.

The most influential factor in the military context in terms of the choice of tactics and strategies is perhaps the fact that the negotiations take place in a potentially dangerous, aggressive and volatile environment. Thus, military negotiations almost always hold a potential for a hostile or even armed response by either side of the process and at any moment, which puts the negotiator under pressure. Therefore, military negotiators have to be used to such contexts and be able to choose tactics and strategies while “negotiating under duress” (Goodwin, 2005, p. 4). Failed negotiations may result in deaths of both civilians and soldiers, which may make negotiators deviate from cooperative tactics and resort to demands and use of force. Nonetheless, such approach is counterproductive, which is why soldiers and officers have to be trained in negotiation before deployment on a mission.

Military negotiations are sometimes compared with hostage negotiations, yet the two have some key differences that make the negotiators use completely different tactics. For instance, the hostage negotiators use stalling and dealing techniques “until the fundamental human needs, both biological and psychological, will force the hostage taker to make concessions” (Jones, 2000, p. 74). In turn, the military negotiators do not have an opportunity to stall as they operate in the time-limited conditions and a delay may have fatal consequences in some instances. The difference between the two lies in the fact that they occur in dangerous and potentially violent environments, which means that the respective negotiators have to be stress-resistant, mentally tough, flexible in the choice of tactics and consistent in the employed strategies. The following section presents a more in-depth overview of the strategies and tactics of negotiation in the military.


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Strategies and Tactics of Negotiation in the Military

The present interest in the topic under consideration is fuelled by a recognition that the contemporary military cannot operate efficiently without at least basic knowledge of negotiation tactics. Hence, armies of all developed countries concluded based on the recent operations that all soldiers have to be taught how to negotiate along with the traditional military skills and trainings (Michaels, 2010). A common mistake in the process of the military negotiations is to choose and adapt tactics on the basis of what the other party does and how it acts (Weiss & Hughes, 2010). However, it can lead to serious consequences as negotiators are human beings and can easily misinterpret the underlying motivations and objectives of the actions of the other party. Therefore, the choice of negotiation tactics in the process of military negotiations has to rely not on a desire “to appease the other side” but on the negotiator’s commitment to “negotiate in a deliberate and strategic fashion rather than simply react” (Weiss & Hughes, 2010, n. p.). Hence, it means that the choice of tactics and strategies has to be consistent. As mentioned above, nowadays there is a scarce theoretical basis for the military negotiations, while the military mostly rely on the manuals and achievements of the researches from other negotiation domains as well as the recent experience in Iraq and other countries.

The US military, for instance, is trained in accordance with two central negotiation paradigms, including distributive and integrative bargaining frameworks with their respective tactics (Nobel et al., 2007). Distributive bargaining is less preferable today as it implies that any negotiation situation is win-lose and one party is always to lose. Negotiators adopting this paradigm use bargaining tactics that intend to claim value “by lowering the opponent’s aspirations or leveraging one’s power to maximize personal gains” (Nobel et al., 2007, p. 1-2). The recent experience of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan proved that such tactics may be effective only when it is a one-time interaction with the other party, yet they increase hostility and breed violence just as often as result in positive negotiations.

Therefore, integrative bargaining seems to be a preferable choice in military negotiation. Integrative paradigm forms a win-win situation for all parties involved in the negotiation, which implies the use of tactics that benefit and create value for all sides (Nobel et al., 2007). These tactics are based on the principles of trust and openness as well as willingness to seek mutually beneficial solutions and facilitate problem-solving conduct without antagonizing any of the sides. These tactics are thus collaborative by nature, yet there is no exhaustive list of such tactics but rather only the afore mentioned principles that should govern them. The only requirement is to refrain from making threats and responding to threats with more threats. On the contrary, it is advised for the military negotiators to “be explicit and state that it appears the other side is making a threat” and that they will not yield to such tactics, while suggesting to adopt cooperative tactics and resolve the process through an open and trustful dialogue (Weiss & Hughes, 2010). Tactics of the military negotiations also have to take into account the cross-cultural differences and peculiarities and revolve around respect for such differences.

Weiss, Donigian, and Hughes (2010) compiled a useful list of negotiation tactics and strategies in the military on the basis of their analysis of real-life experience of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hence, they offer the following strategies and tactics for extreme negotiations with participation of the military: “understand the big picture,” “uncover hidden agendas and collaborate with the other side,” “get genuine buy-in,” “build relationships that are based on trust rather than fear,” and “pay attention to process as well as desired outcomes” (Weiss et al., 2010, n. p.). These tactics and strategies proved their efficiency in the real-life extreme negotiations and complied with the principles of the integrative bargaining paradigm mentioned above. Of course, they fail to provide a list of proven specific tactics with detailed descriptions, but no such list seems to exist since military negotiations are unpredictable and differ from one instance to another. This unpredictability and volatility make it impossible for researchers to develop an exhaustive list of detailed negotiation tactics while negotiators are taught to be flexible and rely on the above listed five framework tactics that should be adapted to the existing circumstances.

Getting the big picture means avoiding making any assumptions about the other side and the issue at stake without learning all factors, facts and stakeholders (Weiss et al., 2010). When employing this strategic tactic, the military negotiator should not assume that the other party is somehow biased, while their party is objective. It also presupposes refraining from making any assumptions about intentions and motivations of the other party, especially from thinking that the latter are obvious. Instead, the negotiator has to remain curious, humble and open-minded and ask the other party for their opinions, explanations of their actions and words and assistance in terms of understanding the situation.

The strategic tactic of uncovering and collaborating presupposes avoidance of open-ended offers, unilateral offers and either outright denial or acceptance of the other side’s offer and demands (Weiss et al., 2010). It means that military negotiators have to do their best to uncover the hidden agendas of the other party and establish collaborative relations with it. Hence, they should ask their counterparts why their demands are important and how they can reach a solution that would be beneficial for both sides. This willingness to collaborate and understand lies at the heart of the strategic tactic consisting in eliciting a genuine buy-in. When using this tactic, military negotiators have to avoid threats, close-mindedness and arbitrariness (Weiss et al., 2010). Hence, they cannot merely state “I want it because I want it” or “Under no circumstances will I agree to – or even consider – that proposal” as it would ruin the entire process of negotiations and make the other side resentful, angry and potentially violent (Weiss et al., 2010, n. p.). Instead, negotiators have to appeal to legitimacy, fairness and logic as well as encouraging the other side to consider the constituent perspectives (Weiss et al., 2010). Only such approach can result in the mutually successful negotiations.


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The strategic tactic of building trust first means that military negotiators have make a conscious and deliberate effort to win trust of the other side prior to asking for something in return. It means that negotiators should not try to buy good relationships and offer any concessions in order “to repair breaches of trust, whether actual or only perceived” (Weiss et al., 2010, n. p.). It may be really tempting to offer some money or favour in return for a required negotiation issue, yet such relationships would be one-time and may result in further extortions and concessions to the detriment of the military’s interests. In turn, military negotiators referring to this tactic should explore how trust has been breached in the past and how they can effectively remedy it by building long-term and trustful relationships. Moreover, concessions can be made only in case they are justified and legitimate, meaning that the previous breach of trust, for instance, through broken commitments resulted in real losses. However, the most important prerequisite constituent of this tactic is a need to “treat counterparts with respect, and act in ways that will command theirs” (Weiss et al., 2010). Respect is the cornerstone of the parties’ relations in the process of any negotiations.

Finally, the strategic tactic of treating negotiation as a process means talking about the entire negotiation process rather than about some issues, slowing the pace of negotiation when necessary and issuing justified and reasonable warnings without making any threats (Weiss et al., 2010). Military negotiators cannot ignore the consequences of their actions and words and have to conduct the negotiation process in a way that does not harm further negotiations with this party.


In the contemporary world, negotiation became an integral part of the military’s routine. Recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan relied heavily on the negotiation skills of the military forces that were in the direct contact with the local population and needed the latter to learn about the insurgents and hostile operations. Therefore, training of the military in negotiation tactics and strategies is currently of the utmost importance all over the world. Nevertheless, this integration of negotiation into the military’s common modus operandi is a rather recent phenomenon, which means that there is a scarce body of literature available to train soldiers in the most efficient tactics and strategies. In turn, the military increasingly rely on the orders and mission statements in the process of negotiation. At the same time, the recent military experience allowed to develop several framework strategic tactics described above that should govern the behaviour of military negotiators considering the ever-changing circumstances. In any case, negotiation in the military context seems to be a much more preferable choice for conflict resolution than fighting, which is why the issue of developing successful negotiation tactics for the military is such a topical issue nowadays.

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