How to win an argument, using concession and avoiding conflict

In a new study, three economists explore the tipping point between conflict and dealmaking -- and conclude that the best way to win an argument might be to concede.

The best way to win an argument might be to concede.

In a new study (.pdf) published in Economic Inquiry, three economists explore the tipping point between conflict and dealmaking and conclude that a potential loser can use small concessions to successfully appease an expected winner.

But Michele Boldrin, David Levine and the late Jack Hirschleifer write that such negotiated concessions might not always work in conflict resolution -- and, where "clear and specific inequalities" exist, appeasement can be dangerous.

The problem of "time consistency" lies at the heart of the paper's findings: if a potential loser agrees to a concession, are there guarantees that more demands will not be made?

"In the baseline case of common beliefs and identical time preferences, if the size of indivisibility is sufficiently small, conflict can always be avoided by a series of small concessions, with both parties recognizing that there will be additional concessions in the future."

In other words, appeasement may be the best way to avoid losing an argument -- particularly since, in the scope of world politics, warfare may not guarantee that each side is any closer to what they originally wanted.

But appeasement can be dangerous if conflict is itself the goal for one party, and it's only avoidable if both parties prefer peace, the authors write.

So what about "inevitable conflict"? That comes into play when a perceived winner is more impatient than a likely loser, according to the study.

The bottom line: when you're at the negotiation table, make sure the other side is prepared to actually negotiate.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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