The idea of giving your opponent a golden bridge comes from Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War. This interpretation usually comes from Sun Tzu’s advice about engaging in battle and in chapter 7 of the original text (“Armed Struggle”), he advised that “A surrounded army must be given a way out. The ancient rule of the charioteers says, “Surround them on three sides, leaving one side open, to show them a way to life. Show them a way to life so that they will not be in the mood to fight to the death, and then you can take advantage of this to strike them.”
Even an exhausted army will fight if they feel there is no other option.
What this means for dispute resolution
Even if you know you have the power to crush your opponent, allow them the possibility to retreat so that you do not deplete your resources, time or money unnecessarily.
You may be very confident in your legal position and you may know that the opposition does not have the money to proceed to court. You may have more money, intellect, time and other resources to destroy your opponent (as Machiavelli might advise!) but why waste them?
Instead, you could offer them a concession which may not mean much to you but it could allow your opponent to retreat from the dispute without losing face.
Offering a golden bridge could simply mean sending an email and asking to talk. The timing of this must be right and you may wish to highlight politely to the other side how you are in a significantly stronger position. This is a very common litigation tactic which outlines that the other side has a lot to lose and it would benefit them to talk.
It’s also often what employers do when faced with wanting to fire an employee. Rather than sacking a person, they give them the option to resign, sometimes with compensation and asettlement agreement to avoid litigation. Big corporates can afford to pay legal fees and have less to lose than a single employee but it takes time and effort which can be better spent elsewhere.
Retreating over the golden bridge allows your opponent to avoid the humiliation of defeat which can be a hugely motivating behavioural factor. It can also prevent people from attempting to reach a solution because settlement can be seen as a weakness.
- Pay attention to your opponent’s self-esteem and their need to be acknowledged as dignified human beings. This itself, can be the golden bridge.
- Think about what an attractive offer might be. What means little to you but more to your opponent?
- If you don’t give your opponent a golden bridge, what could be the consequences? What if you do ?
- Think about your strategy long-term. Could you turn a dispute into a new business relationship? I have seen it happen before so it is possible……
You could take the Machiavellian view and crush your enemy forever! However, actions have consequences; your reputation could put people off from contracting with you or entering any other kind of relationship with you.
Have you ever offered a golden bridge? If so, tell me about your experience!