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Drawing a line in the sand. An old metaphor.

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Shortly after it became clear Barack Obama had won the presidency, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, drew a line in the sand by declaring: "With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates."

He shifted slightly the next day, and the pressures of coming days may rewrite the landscape, but B.C. negotiations expert Neil Patton, in the Pre-Th!nk Newsletter, warns that while drawing a line in the sand can be effective it carries considerable risk.

A line in the sand is a pre-emptive strike, trying to manage the expectations of the other side and influence their thinking. "It works best when you can commit to your position as you work through negotiations and you have the strength and will to not change. If unable to stick to your guns after an early and firm declaration, then your credibility with the other side will be damaged and your perceived strength diluted," he stresses. If you're considering this tactic, he advises:

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  • Consider whether your track record and reputation helps you in drawing a line in the sand. If this is your first use of the tactic, be careful and be sure to follow through.
  • Be absolutely sure that you are able to defend your position.
  • Keep in mind this tactic doesn’t win you friends. Be willing to be viewed as tough and competitive by others.
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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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