Where is the Place for Brinkmanship in Business?

Where is the Place for Brinkmanship in Business?

What does it mean to take things to the brink? Politically, history has notable examples where negotiations appear to teeter on the edge. What, though, does brinkmanship mean for business? Can you succeed by being unreasonable, and if so, what are the implications if you are on the receiving end of it?

Mark Cushway, entrepreneur and motivational speaker, talks about taking things to the brink.

“This is a negotiation strategy where one side is pushing the other to agree to a set of conditions, or lose the deal entirely. It is a high risk strategy, and it can harm goodwill and end up with negotiations breaking down.”


Rationalising the Unreasonable

“For those initiating brinkmanship, they may feel they are being totally reasonable. This dresses it up as gamesmanship, or even portrays it as a normal element in negotiation. A critical factor here, however, is emotional bias.”

In the same way that leadership can distort if it fails to include empathy, so negotiation can end up with parties failing to see another’s perspective.


“In many negotiations, there is a strong element of persuasion. By choosing to take this route, businesses can achieve a degree of stability in their relationships as it also involves a degree of compromise along the way in pursuit of the main objectives”

Mark Cushway


“The problems arise where the process of negotiation becomes far more competitive.  Often, this is where compromise and empathy are missing, because each side assumes the other to be stubborn and unreasonable.”

Can brinkmanship achieve success?


“With a good understanding of your opponent’s characteristic behaviour, you may be able to go in hard and convince them that either they stand to lose if they don’t agree to your conditions, or that there are no more favourable conditions out there”

Mark Cushway


However, there are clear risks attached to it as a negotiating tactic.

“The danger is assuming that because you see the advantage you have, your competitor will see it also, and therefore will blink first. But if they don’t they may call your bluff and catch you with your defences down.”


On the Receiving End

The other side to brinkmanship in business negotiations is being on the receiving end of it.

Brinkmanship can make you feel very vulnerable, because this form of negotiation tends to target your specific areas of vulnerability.”

For example, there might be a situation where you are dependent on a particular supplier or service, which can lead them to exploit your pain-point.

“What if this dependency means your supplier can shut down your business if they don’t get what they want in negotiation? It’s about who really holds the power in the relationship.”


“The best defence against brinkmanship is not putting yourself in a vulnerable position in the first place”

Mark Cushway


“You should look at diversifying your suppliers, or broadening your customer base. Keep your deadlines to yourself and review your prices regularly.”

One of the strongest things a business can have in negotiation is its USP.

“Whichever side of the table you’re on, your unique selling proposition should be there to strengthen your bargaining hand. What can you offer that your competitors cannot?”

Ultimately, brinkmanship in business negotiation may sometimes be unavoidable, but as with other crucial business aspects, learning to listen and understand is as vital as taking the decision to act.

Discover more about Mark Cushway by visiting markcushway.com or reading some of his interviews below: