Power, like gravity or oxygen, permeates our being though invisible, soundless and untasted. We become aware of power when someone tries to impose their will upon us. Schmokler has made clear that our response is limited to takeover, withdrawal, assimilation or imitation. Imitation is responding with an attempt to impose our will on the aggressor. Game theory teaches that the most effective imitation is a strategy called tit-for-tat.
The purpose of tit-for-tat is to return to, or establish, cooperation with the person, or group, asserting their will. The essence of tit-for-tat consists of retaliation at a level just below the intensity of the initial aggression, while making it clear that co-operation is preferred and available to the aggressor if s/he so chooses.
A simplistic example comes from Samuel Clemens. Tom Sawyer, stuck with whitewashing a fence turned the other boys taunting and teasing into a joint whitewashing endeavor.
A business hypothetical that will be familiar to many could occur in this manner. Finance attempts to impose a restrictive travel limit on the sales department. The sales department responds to finance with detail on the savings to be realized from a reduction in financial staff and an offer to join with finance in developing a travel to revenue ratio that will be factored into future sales staff travel plans.
According to Axelrod, Tit-for-tat is a successful Evolutionary Stable Strategy because it is 'nice', 'provokable' and 'forgiving'. A nice strategy is one which is never first to [assert]. In a match between two nice strategies, both do well. A provokable strategy responds by [asserting] at once in response to [aggression]. A forgiving strategy is one which readily returns to co-operation if its opponent does so; unforgiving strategies are likely to produce isolation and end co-operative encounters.
History provides examples of the futility of ignoring and the benefits of employing tit-for-tat. When Neville Chamberlain ceded Poland to Hitler in exchange for the “promise” to end German conquest, Hitler took this as weakness and barreled through the rest of Western Europe. On the other hand, John Kennedy’s response to Nikita Krushchev during the Cuban missile crisis was tit-for-tat. Russia’s establishment of missile sites in Cuba was the initial Krushchev aggression. The blockade of Cuban ports was the 90% retaliation. When Russia turned her ships carrying more missiles back to Russia, the United States made good on its unpublicized promise to remove missile sites from Russia’s southern border. Not only was nuclear holocaust avoided but Krushchev’s inference that John Kennedy was exploitable was dispelled and cooperative ventures were eventually undertaken between the two superpowers.
Recent American political history is rampant with the desire for each political party to seek power over the other. Much of the post-Presidential election conversation has been about the futility of the pursuit of power over one another at the expense of power for the betterment of the country. Tit-for-tat is not an end in itself. The strategy seeks power for a greater good by demonstrating strength, willingness to move beyond conflict and valuing collaboration to attain greater good.
DolphinWork Life Coaches do not create solutions but supports individuals and organizations in the pursuit of the greater good as they define the greater good. The next PowerPlay discussion will address breakthrough, how to cultivate and maintain cooperation and collaboration for attaining a greater good.