Conflict Strategy: Allowing The Other Guy To Save Face – Give Him A Way Out

I have talked about allowing the other party in conflict to “save face.” People are so hellbent on “winning” everything, they forget people need their dignity; they need to save face.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a time where we came very close to nuclear war. Kennedy was furious Krushchev would not remove the missiles so he set up a blockade around Cuba moving us to Defcon II for only the second time in history. Krushchev, in turn, authorized nuclear strikes against the US should Cuba be invaded. As Russian ships approached, the blockade stood firm and ready. At that time, Kennedy, a catholic, contacted Pope John XXIII. The Holy See had a strained relationship with the Soviet Union. Notwithstanding, the Pope drafted the following message:

We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity. That they do all that is in their power to save peace. They will thus spare the world from the horrors of a war whose terrifying consequences no one can predict. That they continue discussions, as this loyal and open behavior has great value as a witness of everyone’s conscience and before history. Promoting, favoring, accepting conversations, at all levels and at any time, is a rule of wisdom and prudence which attracts the blessings of heaven and earth.

This message gave Krushchev the opportunity to save face. It gave him a chance to be the hero and not a coward. How significant this message was can be overlooked. Krushchev was an atheist yet two days later he agreed to withdraw the missiles. The Pope’s message from a mediator’s perspective came at a key time and opened the door to a resolution different than most were expecting. He broke the standoff by giving Krushchev a way out. Mediators try and do this all the time – help parties save face so that they can look past the battle of wills or pride or need to be “right” and get to a good solution.

Try and remember we are all humans who want dignity and respect. Promoting, favoring, accepting conversations is a rule of wisdom. Do not so easily give up on reaching common ground. Pummeling your opponent – even when they deserve it – often produces bad results where nobody wins. Look for the opportunity to show love and bring peace. It is what will change the dynamic of your negotiation.

This piece relies heavily on the article entitled, A War Prevented: Pope John XXIII and the Cuban Missile Crisis – read it here.