Owning the tension

In a game of chess, certain positions offer players leverage – such as one’s pieces controlling the center of the board, or a bishop or a rook that pins an opponent’s piece, rendering it immobile.

The best chess players know how the threat of execution is often more powerful than the execution itself. The moment our opponent senses the danger of our position, he scrambles to defend against it. But in the bargain (and panic) he often ends up creating greater weaknesses that we can exploit. A bishop might rush to the defense of a knight that is attacked by our queen. But in doing so, the bishop might leave the king unguarded.

In a heated negotiation, purposeful silence is pregnant with possibility. Expert negotiators use an uncomfortable silence to get the other party to rush into a proposal. Within a tense silence, one party is often more comfortable than the other. This poise in the face of tension often gets the other party to break the tension and make a favourable offer to the party that owns it.

In chess, as well as in a negotiation, the player who owns the tension ends up with the better proposition.

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