Current Articles

You are Only as Strong as Your Alternatives

You are Only as Strong as Your Alternatives
Diplomacy, Tactic, Strategy, Real-world example, Negotiation

Article Rating:::: 4 Ratings :::: Sunday, May 13, 2007

Negotiation is one of the most important skills that one may need to use to resolve different types of conflicts. Negotiation is applicable to everyone as you should know the tricks of the trade if you want to succeed. The ability to negitiate effectivly in Risk game is also critical.

What I have found, as probably the most important element, is the concept of BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). Basically, you always need to have something, so that you can walk away from a deal. By having an alternative, you will feel stronger psychologically. People can see this confidence and will act accordingly in a negotiation. In contrast, if you think you don't have an alternative, you may portray yourself as a desperate negotiator which the other party may easily spot and exploit.

BATNA isn't about your minimum bid. Instead, it clarifies the path of action you will take, if the negotiation fails and you have to walk away empty handed. The best way to come up with BATNA is to do a bit of homework before the negotiation. You need to create a list of alternatives in case negotiation doesn't go according to plan. What would you do otherwise? You need to score the list accordingly. What are the implications of a particular alternative? Once you have the list, you can go ahead and push for more.

Remember, the BATNA is not cast in stone. As the negotiation progresses or as you do more research, new alternatives may surface which may replace the old ones. Who has information, has power. 

Recently, I came across an interesting article that contained a collection of negotiation tips derived from international politics. A panel consisting of a number of politicians, ambassadors and negotiators have been discussing the ins and outs of negotiation over current international conflicts. Some of the tips are quite interesting. You can see the importance of proper diplomacy all around. Some of them are also directly applicable to Risk game strategies.

Here, you will find a summary of these tips.

Dr. Howard Wolpe

  • The search for quick fixes is almost invariably counter-productive.

Ambassador Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah

  • Use Carrots/Sticks and the Local Media: Incentives help, especially in countries at war, but sticks should be used carefully. Meetings under harsh conditions are useful.

Dr. harold Saunders

  • Most significant negotiations will affect an important relationship. Ask early, “What relationships or larger strategies are really at stake here?” When the going gets tough, invoking those larger stakes can justify compromises that could not be justified just by trade-offs.
  • Listen carefully to the other side and draft proposals yourself that meet the other’s concerns within limits that are possible for you. Show that you have heard the other and take their concerns seriously.
  • Ask the other side what it needs from you to make an agreement more acceptable to their constituents. What might you do outside the negotiating room?

Ambassador Herman Cohen

  • A cease-fire (or an end to violence) should not be a pre-requisite to negotiations.
  • The end game should not result in any losers. Above all, none of the players can be expected to commit suicide.

Dr. Joyce Neu

  • The historical present. Parties in conflict may see the present only through the past and be unable or unwilling to separate past and present reality. Mediators need to listen to the stories of the past to be able to address the present. Trying to skip over the stories of victimization, grievances, etc., will not usually work: these stories will re-surface continuously until the parties believe the third party has heard them.
  • Back to the future. The future is envisioned as the past. Parties in conflict may be unable to envision a different future from what they have experienced. The third party needs to help parties structure a future different from the past that led them into the conflict.

Dr. Andrea Bartoli

  • Be ready not to have an agreement. Never forget that there are many others who can affect the final result.
  • Do, as others were not relevant at that moment.
  • Do not underestimate the power of respect.
  • Be ready to enjoy any outcome.

Ambassador Robert Oakley

  • Where possible, the credible THREAT of powerful military action can be an effective tool if employed skillfully; however the results of the actual use of force are often very problematic.
  • Maintain the initiative, the upper hand, the momentum, at all times. Establish the image you want to project privately and publicly, and stick with it. (i.e. consistency).
  • Regularly review your objectives and the resources available to achieve them in order to ensure that evolving events have not created conditions requiring a change in the objective or a change in resources available for achieving them.

Dr. I William Zartman

  • You are only as strong as your alternatives. Options need to be paired with worse alternatives to be attractive; otherwise they can be compared only to the present course, which at least has familiarity in its favor. However, threats feared more by the threatener than by the threatened are not credible.
  • Achieving one’s goals need to prevent another party from achieving its goals. Both parties cannot be satisfied if relative gains are the measure, but they can if goals are conceived as absolutes.

Dr. Chester Crocker

  • Ripeness is the fruit of many variables. It comes and goes. One must both create it and be ready to exploit changes which can create it.
  • Information is a vital tool of tradecraft. You never have enough. Fight to get more. Use it shamelessly.

Mr. James O'Brien

  • Don’t say what you intend to do several days before you do it – unless you want someone to change the facts on the ground in the meantime.
  • Listen. Ask, don’t tell. Even negotiators can learn something, and a negotiator’s silence gives the parties a chance to persuade themselves.
  • Unless a negotiator knows how she intends to get yes, and not just how to get closer to yes, she has a peace process, not a potential peace.

Ambassador Luigi Einaudi

  • The single most important truth is that the parties are the ones who will have to live with the agreement once the negotiations conclude. Two critical aspects flow from this
  1. First, an agreement must reflect enough of the interests of the differing parties to ensure their willingness to implement its provisions; and
  1. Second, each party must have a significant degree of confidence in the ability/willingness of the other party or parties to abide by the agreement after it is reached.

Post Rating


Diplomat   By Diplomat @ Sunday, May 13, 2007 12:28 PM
Another interesting concept i came across is EATNA ( Estimated alternatives to a negotiated agreement) instead of the best alternatives. According to this concept, even when the two side of the negotiation do not have good options outside of negotiations, they might think that they do. In such cases even the perception of having a good alternative counts as an advantage because if a disputant believe that he or she may have a better option they are more likely to pursue that option.

Post Comment

Only registered users may post comments.
Rate = 3.5 out of 5 :::: 4 Ratings.
About the Author

I am a board game and Risk game enthusiast. I like thinking and talking about strategy in games which has led me to the creation of this website. Although Risk is a classic, I feel one can never get tired of playing this game. Read about what I think of the game and I am always eager to know what you think.

My Book: Risk Game Strategy

Total Diplomacy: The Art of Winning Risk

Available from Amazon as paperback and Kindle

Available in Apple Books

Learn More About the Book

RSS Feed


Latest Forum Posts
RE: Diplomacy In Online Risk
by Ehsan Honary
Hi Jamie. Well, I think not relying on diplomacy won't do you any good. The situation you describe i...
RE: World Domination: Ways to win Risk
by JamieRogers
I agree, Alan. If you are playing with the dealt cards setup, then you should generally go for which...
Diplomacy In Online Risk
by JamieRogers
As most members of my family or my friends dislike playing risk or only play occasionally, I play mo...
How can I win this match?
by Pyrux
Hi, I'm an italian guy named Lorenzo.  Today, me and my housemates started a Risiko (Ris...
RE: World Domination: Ways to win Risk
by Great Alan
British & French : Once the German enter Belgium, we shall crush them! Erich von Manstein : Sorry, ...
RE: North America Strategy Help
by Great Alan
You have 2 options, Shirokiba: 1. Transfer your strategic objective to other places. 2. Force yo...
North America Strategy Help
by Shirokiba
So, I just started playing Risk and I try going for North America, it typically works out rather wel...
RE: Tell me if this strategey is good or bad
by The General
Nailing is an excellent stratgy because it prevents your neighbor from receiving his bonus which mak...
RE: 3 player game: Me vs Husband and Wife team
by Ehsan Honary
Kumo, this is a rather interesting scenario and let me just say it is tricky. In general a 3 player ...
3 player game: Me vs Husband and Wife team
by kumo
So, every time I play against my buddy and his wife, it always turns out to be essentially me agains...

Having money brings about its own problems. Do you want to have the problems of the Rich or the problems of the Poor?

Rich Dad