Background Note | HBS Case Collection | January 2002 (Revised April 2015)

A Note on Maneuvering in War and Negotiation

by Michael Wheeler and Gillian Morris


Military metaphors are commonplace in business writing about strategy, but they are rarely used in the negotiation literature. This case takes the Marine Corps philosophy of warfighting and compares it with the tactics and techniques of effective negotiators. Some of the characteristics of war—such as friction, imperfect information and communication, fluidity, and disorder—are also parts of negotiations. Likewise, some of the techniques military strategists use, like exploiting gaps in the enemy's lines and using boldness and speed to surprise the enemy, can also work for negotiators. Most critically, however, this case applies the notion of complexity to both warfare and negotiation and introduces students to the ideas of continual adaptation and dynamic responses to changing environments.

Keywords: Negotiation Tactics; Situation or Environment; Conflict and Resolution; War; Adaptation;


Wheeler, Michael, and Gillian Morris. "A Note on Maneuvering in War and Negotiation." Harvard Business School Background Note 902-157, January 2002. (Revised April 2015.)