Brinkmanship definition

Brinkmanship refers to the tactic of pushing dangerous events to the edge of catastrophe in order to achieve an advantageous outcome in negotiation or competition, typically the withdrawal or retreat of the other party.

In some cases brinkmanship may be akin to ‘calling someone’s bluff,’ in that the person pushing the brinkmanship strategy is convinced the other side will not go as far as they will in pushing the dangerous event to its most critical point.

Brinkmanship is dangerous because its effectiveness is based on escalation – the party pursuing brinkmanship must be prepared to go further towards catastrophe in order to convince the other party to back down.

In one classic case of brinkmanship, the Cold War, both Russia and the United States were making decisions that increased the chance of nuclear war. In this case, theorists suggested there were two outcomes: either one party backed down, or both would destroy each other.

One of the classic non-organisational examples of brinkmanship is the game ‘chicken,’ whereby two people drive their cars head-on at each other – the last person to swerve in order to avoid a collision is the ‘loser.’


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