Thursday, 25 May, 2006

Zugzwang and ultimatums

Contemplating the word zugzwang from yesterday's entry, I found a perfect use for the term:  when you, through your own actions, put yourself in a position from which you have no good way to extricate yourself.  You have placed yourself in zugzwang.  How about an example.

I learned a very long time ago not to give an ultimatum unless I was prepared for either outcome.  I'm amazed whenever I see an adult say, "Do what I want, or else."  The expectation is that he'll get his way, and he's not prepared for "or else."  I've seen this most often when an employee comes to the boss and says, "Give me some privilege or I quit," fully expecting to have his demands met.  Imagine the surprise when the boss doesn't give in.  All of a sudden the employee is faced with quitting or backing down--neither of which is what he wanted.

Interestingly enough, the above scenario also places the boss in zugzwang.  By giving the boss an ultimatum, the employee has put him in a bad situation.  If the boss caves he looks like a doormat.  But if he refuses, he might lose a valuable employee.   Most employers I know don't look too kindly on ultimatums and would rather lose the employee.

I'm surprised at how many people fail to learn this lesson.  One of the easiest ways to foster good will and avoid confrontation is to always give yourself and the other guy a way out.  If you don't give yourself a way out, you'll end up having to choose among bad options.  If you don't give the other guy a way out (that is, you force him to select from a group of bad options), he's likely to select the option that affects you the worst just to get back at you for putting him in that position.