Moving first, initiating the attack, will often put you at a disadvantage: you are exposing your strategy and limiting your options. Instead discover the power of holding back and letting the other side move first, giving you the flexibility to counterattack from any angle. If your opponents are aggressive, bait them into a rash attack that will leave them in a weak position. Learn to use their impatience, their eagerness to get at you, to throw them off balance and bring them down. In difficult moments do not despair or retreat; any situation can be turned around. If you learn how to hold back, waiting for the right moment to launch an unexpected counterattack, weakness can become strength. During a crisis, sometimes it is better to accept a setback willingly and go on the defensive. A defensive position may be the perfect way to disguise an offensive maneuver, a counterattack. While an offensive maneuver is often the best way to defend a weak position, there is a much more efficient strategy: Orchestrate neither retreat nor attack, but something far more subtle and creative; fusing defense and offense to set up the perfect trap.
The Counterattack Strategy
Most of us only know how to play either offensively or defensively. Either we go into attack mode, charging our targets in a desperate push to get what we want, or we try frantically to avoid conflict and, if it is forced on us, to ward off our enemies as best we can. Neither approach works when it excludes the other. By making offense our rule, we create enemies and risk acting rashly and losing control of our own behavior. Constant defensiveness backs us into a corner and becomes a bad habit. In either case we are predictable.
Instead consider a third option. At times, seem vulnerable and defensive as to get your antagonists to disregard you as a threat and to lower their guard. When the moment is right and you sense an opening, switch to the attack. Make your aggression controlled and your weakness a ploy to disguise your intentions. In a dangerous moment, when those around you see only doom and the need to retreat, that is when you smell an opportunity. By playing weak you can seduce your aggressive rivals to come at you full throttle. Then, catch them off guard by switching to the offense when they least expect it. Mixing offense and defense in this fluid fashion, you will stay one step ahead of your inflexible opponents. The best blows are the ones they never see coming.
Experiment the power of holding back. Learn to bend to circumstances, changing direction effortlessly as needed. When feeling cornered, let your opponents make the first move. Whether by attacking you or by detailing their own positions, they will most likely expose themselves, giving you openings to use their own words against them later. By staying silent under their attacks, you goad them into going too far and ending up shrill and irrational which, more than often plays badly with the public. Once their own aggression makes them vulnerable, come in for the kill.
Learn to bait your opponents by staying calm and patient, getting them to make the first aggressive move. As they come at you and either strike at you or grab hold of you, either push or pull, moves with them, using their strength against them. As you deftly step forward or back at the right moment, the force of their own momentum will throw them off balance leaving them vulnerable to a counterblow. Their aggression becomes their weakness, for it commits them to an obvious attack, exposing their strategy and making it hard for them to stop.
In politics and business like in all aspects of life, this jujitsu style of combat yields endless benefits. It gives you the ability to fight without seeming aggressive. It saves you energy while your adversary exhaust himself thus allowing you to stay above the fray and widen your options, allowing you to build on what your adversaries give you.
Aggression Is Deceptive
Aggression is deceptive: it inherently hides weakness. Aggressors cannot control their emotions. They cannot wait for the right moment, cannot try different approaches, cannot stop to think about how to take their enemies by surprise. In that first wave of aggression, they seem strong, but the longer their attack goes on, the clearer their underlying weakness and insecurity become. It is easy to give in to impatience and make the first move, but there is more strength in holding back, patiently letting the other person make the play. That inner strength will almost always prevail over outward aggression.
Time is on your side. Make your counterattacks swift and sudden, like the cat who creeps on padded paws to suddenly pounce on its prey. Make the jujitsu way of fighting your style in almost everything you do. Make it your way of responding to aggression in everyday life, your way of facing circumstances. Let events come to you, saving valuable time and energy for those brief moments when you blaze with the counterattack.
Keys to Conflicts
Over the years, various strategists in different cultures noticed a peculiar phenomenon: in battle, the sides that were on the defensive often won in the end. There are several reasons for this. First, once the aggressors are going on the attack, they have no more surprises in store. The defenders can clearly see their strategy and take protective action. Second, if the defenders can somehow turn back this initial attack, the aggressors are left in a weak position, disorganized and exhausted. If the defenders can take advantage of this weakness of the aggressors to deliver a counterblow, they could often force them to retreat.
This is on the base on these observations that the art of the counterattack was developed. Its basic tenets are to let the enemy make the first move, actively baiting him into an aggressive attack that would expend his energy and unbalance his lines, then taking advantage of his weakness and disorganization.
The counterattack strategy is, in fact, the origin of all modern strategies promoting an indirect approach to conflicts. It represents a breakthrough in thinking. Instead of being brutal and direct, the counterattack is subtle and deceptive, using the enemy's energy and aggression to bring about his downfall. Although it is one of the oldest and most basic strategies in warfare, it remains in many ways the most effective and has proven highly adaptable to modern conditions.
The counterattack principle is infinitely applicable to any competitive environment or form of conflict. It is based on certain truths of human nature: we are inherently impatient creatures; we find it hard to wait; we want our desires to be satisfied as quickly as possible. This is a tremendous weakness, for it means that in any given situation we often commit ourselves without enough thought. In charging ahead, we limit our options and get ourselves into trouble. Patience, on the other hand, particularly in conflict and crisis situations, pays unlimited dividends: it allows us to sniff out opportunities, to time a counterblow that will catch the antagonist by surprise. A person who can lie back and wait for the right moment to act will almost always have an advantage over those who give in to their natural impatience.
The first step in mastering the counterattack strategy is to master yourself, and particularly your tendency to grow emotional in conflictual crisis situations. Once you learn patience, your options suddenly expand. Instead of wearing yourself out in little wars, you can save your energy for the right moment, take advantage of other people's mistakes, and think clearly in difficult situations. You than see opportunities for counterattack where others see only surrender or retreat.
The key to any successful counterattack is staying calm while your opponent gets frustrated and irritable. Always begin the fight by mirroring your opponent's every move. This would drive him crazy, for he would be unable to read your own moves or get any sense of what he is up to. At some point he will lose patience and strike out, lowering his guard. It is then that you want to parry this attack and follow up with a fatal counterblow. More than often, the advantage in a life-and-death fight lay not in aggression but in passivity. By mirroring your adversary's moves, you can understand his strategy and thinking. By being calm and observant, patient, you can detect when your opponent will decide to attack. The more irritated your adversary becomes and the harder he tries to hit you, the greater his imbalance and vulnerability.
Mirroring people, giving back to them just what they give you, is a powerful method of counterattack. In daily life, mirroring and passivity can charm people, flattering them into lowering their defenses and opening themselves to attack. It can also irritate and discomfit them. Their thoughts become yours. You are feeding off them, your passive front disguising the control you are exercising over their minds. Meanwhile you are giving them nothing of yourself; they cannot see through you. Your counterattack will come as a complete surprise to them.
The counterattack is a particularly effective strategy against what might be called "the barbarian", the man or woman who is especially aggressive by nature. Do not be intimidated by these types; they are in fact weak and are easily swayed and deceived. The trick is to goad them by playing weak or stupid while dangling in front of them the prospect of easy gains.
Base your baiting of “the barbarian” on your knowledge of your adversary’s personality, which is arrogant and violent. By turning these qualities to your advantage, encouraging your opponent's greed and aggression, you control his mind. Look for the emotion that your opponents are least able to manage, then bring it to the surface. With a little work on your part, they will lay themselves open to your counterattack.
For many difficult people, acting out is a strategy, a method of control. They give themselves the license to be impossible and neurotic. If you react by getting angry and trying to make them stop, you are doing just what they want: they are engaging your emotions and dominating your attention. If, on the other hand, you simply let them run amok, you put them still more in control. But, if you encourage their difficult behavior, agree with their paranoid ideas, and push them to go further, you turn the dynamic around. This is not what they want or expect. Now they're doing what you want. Again, it is the jujitsu strategy: you are using their energy against them. In general, encouraging people to follow their natural direction, to give in to their greed or neuroses, will give you more control over them than active resistance will. Either they get themselves into terrible trouble or they become hopelessly confused, all of which plays into your hands.
Whenever you find yourself on the defensive and in trouble, the greatest danger is the impulse to overreact. You then only exaggerate your enemy's strength, seeing yourself as weaker than you are. A key principle of counterattack is never to see a situation as hopeless. No matter how strong your enemies seem, they have vulnerabilities you can prey upon and use to develop a counterattack. Your own weakness can become a strength if you play it right; with a little clever manipulation, you can always turn things around. That is how you must look at every apparent problem and difficulty.
An enemy seems powerful because he has a particular strength or advantage. Maybe it's money and resources; maybe it's moral standing and reputation. Whatever his strength might be, it is a potential weakness, simply because he relies on it: neutralize it and he is vulnerable. Your task is to put him in a situation in which he cannot use his advantage.
If your opponent's advantage comes from a superior style of fighting, the best way to neutralize it is to learn from it, adapting it to your own purposes. As you neutralize your enemy's strengths, you must similarly reverse your own weaknesses. Perhaps your reputation is lower than your opponent's; that just means you have less to lose. Sling mud, some of it will stick, and gradually your enemy will sink to your level. Always find ways to turn your weakness to advantage.
Difficulties with other people are inevitable; you must be willing to defend yourself and sometimes to take the offensive. The modern dilemma is that taking the offensive is unacceptable today, attack and your reputation will suffer, you will find yourself politically isolated, and you will create enemies and resistance. The counterattack is the answer. Let your enemy make the first move, then play the victim. Without overt manipulation on your part, you can control your opponents' minds. Bait them into a rash attack; when it ends up in disaster, they will have only themselves to blame, and everyone around them will blame them, too. You win both the battle of appearances and the battle on the field. Very few strategies offer such flexibility and power.
The counterattack strategy cannot be applied in every situation: there will always be times when it is better to initiate the attack yourself, gaining control by putting your opponents on the defensive before they have time to think. Look at the details of the situation. If your adversary is too smart to lose patience and attack you, or if you have too much to lose by waiting, go on the offensive. It is also usually best to vary your methods, always having more than one strategy to draw on. If your enemies think you always wait to counterattack, you have the perfect setup for moving first and surprising them. Mix things up. Watch the situation and make it impossible for your opponents to predict what you will do.
J. Michael dennis ll.l., ll.m
Corporate Systemic Strategist