Buskirk's Tactics Managers Must Know

There are hundreds of books about how to work and deliberate together. Elsewhere, I provide notes on two of my favorite books about how to have productive meetings. There’s also a subgenre on scheming, headed by Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Machiavelli’s The Prince. Most would consider the implementation of these guides to be unethical, but as Richard Buskirk advised, even the scrupulous need to know the tactics of the unscrupulous. Two of my favorites in this genre include Nancy Sylvester’s The Guerrilla Guide to Robert’s Rules and Buskirk’s Frontal Attack.

Buskirk died just as I was beginning my career of chairing technical and policy committees, and his book encapsulated his experiences from when I was born. But his tactics—and I count 120—are as relevant as ever. I find it a shame that the book isn’t freely available, so I provide my notes for the benefit of the scrupulous. I also include addenda which I’ve seen in my experiences working in and facilitating groups—such as at the W3C and IETF.

Richard Buskirk (1989). Frontal Attack, Divide & Conquer, the Fait Accompli & 118 other Tactics Managers Must Know, New York: John Wiley & Sons.

2: Operating Tactics

Never, but never, wound a king

Do not hurt someone who is in a position to exact revenge. If the injured party has a means to redress her injury, the chances are that she will use it. (33)

The fait accompli ✓

The fait accompli is an age-old tactic in which the person simply proceeds to do whatever it is that he wants to do, thereby presenting the adversary with the accomplished fact instead of risking the chance of having the plan disapproved. If a person is able to execute successfully, the tactic is most effective because there is usually little argument with success, no matter if the action was outside of policy were somewhat irregular. (34)

Most effective in dealing with people who are lethargic, indecisive, or overly conservative, on relatively minor manners (35)


The sandbagging manager is like a poker player or golf hustler who leads others to underestimate her talents and intentions; (37)

he has mastered the art of seeming harmless and without power, but in reality he carries far more authority and clout when one is led to believe. (37)

Sometimes goes along with a plan of action though she is secretly against it and plans the sandbagging at a later date (e.g., being publicly supportive but depriving a project of resources) (37)

Avoid battle

The wise administrator avoids battle when it is not to his advantage to engage the enemy. This occasion occurs far more often than one might think. (40)

Choose your battleground

Be present on the battlefield

The manager should be present when one of his subordinates is presenting a plan that he particularly desires to be successful. He should lend his support and the authority of his position to his subordinate, lest he expose the subordinate the counterattacks that may shoot down the plan in such a way that would be difficult to revive later. (42)

Make certain that preparations are complete before battle ✓

One should go into battle fully armed. Some managers are undone by their carelessness. Before battle they failed to make certain that they are properly prepared, thus causing their own eventual undoing. (45)

Touch bases

Frequently, it is critical to attend to all the details involved in a situation. Touch bases to ensure that nothing is left unattended. (47)


People best like to associate with others who are personable. Cold fish are disdained. The manager who is always overly businesslike will seldom engender warm feelings. Subordinates do a great many things for their supervisor solely for personal reasons. (48-49)

Hold your coat

You may have stake one way or the other in the affair, so then you should use the hold-your-coat tactic—provide support to the warrior of your choice by doing everything possible short of going into battle with him.

Sting ‘em

Use punishment judiciously to have others recognize power (52)

Frontal attack

When the manager knows that he is completely right in is dealing from a position of overwhelming strength, act decisively (53)

The steamroller: the power-play

A sufficiently strong show of feeling on your part may win out against a number of people not so highly motivated. (56)

Outflank them

Instead of meeting an adversary head on, the manager simply goes around him in some manner, thereby avoiding a fight. (57)

Throwing your own party

If you are not invited to some activity or party, throw one of your own or find something else while ignoring the original activity. (58)

One-on-one ✓

The manager singles others out individually rather than facing them in groups. He wants a two-way dialogue with the other party, with no one else involved. (59)

People are often more persuadable individually than in groups where they reinforce their opinions (59)

Muddling through

Enter a situation with a mind to do whatever is expedient to solve the problem at hand.… She handles the problems as they arise. (62)

Divide and conquer

May appear similar to one-on-one, but in divide-and-conquer the manager is trying to divide two or more interest groups (63)

Marshal your forces or turn out the guard

The cost can be high, but it is sometimes necessary to overwhelm the adversary with sheer weight of numbers (65-66)

Aim at strength

If you can defeat your adversary’s main strength, his entire defense could collapse. Best used with people whose talents are limited. (67)

Aim at weakness

A more common tactic is to keep pounding at a weakness until the adversary fails. (69)

Run for daylight

Named for a Green Bay Packers fullback Jen Taylor, this tactic describes a manager who sees a hole or opportunity and pursues it with great vigor. (70)

Speed ✓

Plain, unadulterated speed is frequently a most successful tactic. (71)

Jump on the bandwagon

Something is easier to do, if many people are doing it. And this tactic is susceptible to the power of suggestion in steering the bandwagon. Sometimes one only needs the illusion of a bandwagon. (73)

The trap play

Fool an adversary into thinking he sees a weakness in your plan that he will pursue vigorously only to be destroyed when you spring the trap. (74)

Harass them or rattle their cage

When a manager cannot win a clear-cut victory, they may choose to harass in such a manner that he will eventually give way. Harassment can be subtle if the manager is sufficiently clever. (75-76)

Get lost!

Sometimes it is best to disappear, especially in explosive situations. (77)

Give them a flat tire to run on ✓

Depriving effort of a resource necessary for its completion (e.g., appointing people who don’t want change to an innovation committee or who will bungle the process). (78-79)

The manager can control what he wants done in an organization by the people he selects to do it. If you really want something accomplished, he must assign the work to a proven performer. If he wants to go through the motions for appearances, then he places the responsibility on someone who he is absolutely confident will cause nothing to happen. (79)

Look at it another way: by bogging down the various power seekers in a morass of organizational committee structure, the top power structure can go its merry way, relatively unmolested. (79)

Let them furnish their own rope

Allow the opposition to go ahead with its plans without opposition if one believes they are likely to fail (80)

Limitations include time and damages incurred while waiting for one’s adversary to hang himself (81)

Push them off the dock

Good people may grow fastest when presented with the task for which they are not completely prepared, and told to swim or drown. One thing about this tactic is that it separates the winners from the losers. (81)

Use a hatchet man

When dirty work must be done, the wise manager tries to keep her hands clean. Perhaps you may have a subordinate, a hatchet man, to do dirty work, thereby avoiding the dissatisfaction of those who do not approve of the actions. (82)

Don’t burn your bridges behind you

In the heat of anger managers say or do things that permanently alienate others in the belief that those people will never be able to affect her fortunes. Unfortunately, these roosters often come home to roost and the manager is stymied. (84-85)

Consequently, the wise person goes further in “mending your fences” and keeping those bridges operational (85)

Leave the door open

A manager should try to behave toward an adversary in such a way that the door is always left open for the two to get together on their differences. Care should be taken in what is said and done so the door is not permanently closed on communications between the two and relationships between them permanently severed. For this reason, avoid ultimatums. (86)

Surrender quickly

Few things will make a person quite so happy or so thoroughly disarmed in future conflicts as allowing him to win the day almost uncontested. (87)

Conserve ammunition and energy for battles you’re likely to win; surrender with style and poise (88)

Run for cover

In explosive situations in which the press is involved the wise executive will run for cover rather than trying to defend himself with cute or minimizing remarks (89)

Clear out

Unlike get lost, you leave the scene and others know where you are

Fold the enterprise

If there is no hope for victory, folding the enterprise conserves resources and others may be impressed by the wisdom of the manager who knows when to quit (92)

Be the fall guy

Sometimes the wise manager will deliberately take the blame for something, whether or not she is guilty, in order to ingratiate herself with the superior or to gain the gratitude of a guilty subordinate. (93)


Surreptitiously destroy adversary’s confidence and capabilities while publicly defending her (93-94)

Let them set their own sentences

When a subordinate must be punished, bitterness can be removed from the disciplining if he sets some punishment. One can also appear gracious if one then lightens the self-imposed punishment. (95)

Righteous indignation

While the normal demeanor of a mature executive should be cool, calm, and collected, sometimes theatrics are called for if the manager is obviously totally in the right and the adversary has committed a wrong that cannot be allowed to go unnoticed (95)

Silence – maintain confidence

One of the worst reputations one can develop is that of talking too much. Seldom is one criticized for saying too little. (97)

Take the pitch

The adversary says something that presumably calls for reply, but it was not phrased as a direct question that you should answer out of courtesy. Consider taking the pitch – say nothing, give no reaction – so the other party will go on talking. (98)

This is akin to “keeping silent” but with a different twist and that a better offer is likely to be forthcoming (99)

Act, don’t react

If one is frequently in the position of reacting, adversaries learn of this and create situations by which one can be manipulated (99)

Don’t act from emotion

The manager is strongly advised never to act in the heat of emotion. Instead, one should only act after cold, rational thought. (101)

Test the water

The manager is wise if he tests the temperature of an organization with a hint or proposal to see if plans will be well received. He may wish to disguise the source of an idea “thereby removing personal status from the idea should it be soundly defeated.” (102)

Laugh it off

A manager can dismiss criticism or complaint from an adversary by laughing it off and treating it as if it were a joke. The adversary may then go along with the manager (103)

Action: ignore the static

The manager should not permit himself to be deterred by minor flak and assaults on his plans (105)

Die on the vine

Like a pocket veto, the manager can permit something to die on the vine by not taking any action (106-107)

Let them bitch

Some managers deliberately set up a session in which subordinates can voice their feelings and vent. However, the manager should be careful not to let the others think there’s been a change of course (107-108)

The hot potato

Some issues are so potentially explosive that the wise manager avoids being connected with them. She passes the hot potato on to other people. (108)

Innocent all the way

Make it seem as if the other party is out of his head for even thinking such foul thoughts. It makes them look even more ridiculous than they are. (111)

Refused to get sucked into any name-calling situation. (111)

Piggybacking ✓

Incorporate one’s own plan into a program which has gained approval (112)

Put in writing ✓

This action gives you time to think about it, make the adversary think through his position, possibly cool him off or encourage him to modify his demands, and he gets the adversary on paper, which may later prove to be highly advantageous because the document may prove to be his undoing. (112-113)

Do something, no matter what

At times the manager must knowingly take some ineffectual action as a symbol to his people that he cares. Perhaps it is nothing more than standing up to the boss by writing some memo to him protest one thing or another. (114)

Rain dance

A variation of “do something,” this differs in that the “big medicine man (boss) knows damn good and well that his dance won’t cure the drought, but the tribe demands the ceremony or there will be somebody else shaking the bones over the fire.” (114)

Like Pres. Carter during the Iran hostage situation; or a sales manager acting in the face of a recession (115)

Go see the wizard

Often there are people who have been long in the organization, know everyone and everything, and can be consulted (116)

Let’s do research ✓

A stalling tactic that is difficult for the adversary to overcome. Related to the “stall tactic” but “there is a seemingly sound reason for the delay”. Can also be used to pass the buck to others’ shoulders. (116-117)

Refer to a committee ✓

One of the classic stalling tactics is to refer a proposal or plans submitted by an adversary to a committee for further study. (119)

This can be risky if one does not have control over the committee (119)

Have a fall guy

It is usually best for one’s career not to have the bloodstains of disaster fall directly on your hands. (121)

Control the environment – bestow the status symbols

The granting of favors and status symbols (e.g., titles, office positions, etc.) can be given and removed appropriately (122)

Exiled to Siberia

Sometimes a manager can physically move an adversary so that he is rendered impotent. (123)

Put the ball in their court ✓

When arranging one’s business affairs, it is usually advantageous to arrange a deal so that if things do not go as anticipated, the ball is in the other person’s court. The other party must act because you have possession of the assets. (125)

Use a spear carrier

When assaulting a well-entrenched adversary, the adroit tactician avoids direct participation in the early harassing attacks. (125)

Lying back in the weeds

Often, if your power base is inadequate to hold sway over an adversary, you will find it advantageous to hide your malevolent intentions – lie back in the weeds and wait for the opportune time to walk out and do battle. As long as the adversary is unaware of your hostility and intentions, you can gain access to needed information that will help your cause. (126)

3: Tactics Involving Personal Relationships (Some People Call It Politics)


Loyalty is often rewarded above and beyond competency (133)


Appearance of busyness is often the only measure of productivity others can discern (136)

Avoid losers

An old adage advises that one is judged by the company one keeps (137)

Put salve on their wounds

Be consoling to those who have been injured in bureaucratic affairs, even if you cannot act in their best interests (138)

Pour oil on troubled waters

Similar to “salve on their wounds” but at the organizational level (140)

4: Timing Tactics

Leave well enough alone

It takes a manager of great wisdom and patience to be able to keep her hands off a situation that is bothering her, but sometimes that is precisely what she must do: nothing. (146)

Be patient

Many things simply take time and it is disadvantageous to be impatient. (148)

Let the situation worsen

Occasionally, the best you can do is to let a bad situation get worse, for if you act too soon, you will be criticized as taking unwarranted action. (149)

Strike while the iron is hot

The aggressive alert manager must strike when it is highly advantageous to do so, regardless of all other factors, because the success of any plan may depend more on the existence of fortune and timing than any other factor. (151)

Strike when you’re strong

The manager is wise to postpone making a move until he is sufficiently strong to execute it successfully. (152)

All bets are made on the first tee

In golf, winners and losers are determined more by first-tee negotiations than skills on the golf course (153)

Strike when it hurts your adversaries

If plans call for inflicting maximum damage on the foe, the timing of the plan should be such that it hurts the most (154)

Don’t let them dig in

Speed is frequently essential in action; you want to prevent the adversary from gaining a toehold or being able to solidify his position, thereby presenting a stronger counterforce at a later date. (155)

Grab it now!

Collection may be a long, costly process, with scant chance of success. Grab the money as soon as you can (158)

5: Negotiating And Persuasive Tactics

Narrowing the field

Narrow the field so you and the adversary disagree on as few points as possible (162)

Step-by-step ✓

… the negotiator focuses all attention on one issue to get agreement on that matter before any other agenda item is discussed. (163)

The blank check ✓

In circumstances where everyone knows most any change would be for the better, but people get bogged down in details, “try to get a blank check to execute your plan without further authority.” (165)

Bait your hook

The easiest way to get somebody to do something you want them to do is to make it worth their while. (166)

Disguise your true desires

If you are too eager to accept an adversary’s offer, he may quickly withdraw because he assumes he’s been too generous. Always try to allow the other party to believe that he has made a good deal. (169)

Be your own casting director ✓

Characterize people in a way that is favorable to you: “I can tell you are an honest person…”. This takes advantage of psychological suggestion (“many people will instinctively play the role suggested for them”) and people are often accommodating and want to be liked. (169)

Carry a big stick ✓

Invoke the name of superiors (171)

Bring your own expert

Bring your own expert so you are not bullied: “You must have knowledge at least equal to that of your adversary.” (173)

Set up straw men ✓

A “straw man” is some demand or condition that the manager puts forth solely for the opposition to knockdown. He is not at all serious about the strawman and fully expects it to be attacked, but he intends to extract a price for allowing the strawman’s annihilation." (174)

Nose in the tent, foot in the door ✓

The manager settles for small, immediate gains in areas hitherto impenetrable in the hope that, once he has his nose in the tent, he will be able to move the foot in the door. (174)

Leave the lid on Pandora’s box

Be extremely wary of venturing into areas that good judgment tells you are fraught with potential troubles. (176)

Shoot for the moon ✓

Shoot for the moon and settle for less if need be (177)

Raise the stakes – buy the pot

Do not get in a bidding war in which the other person can raise the stakes beyond what you can match (178)

Learn the adversary’s limits

The negotiator should conceal his own limits and attempt to discern those of the adversary. “Documented lies can be effective and misleading and adversary about your limits.” (180)

Run a bluff

Bluffs are most effective when supported by some visual evidence and never bluff unless you’re willing to live with the results. (182)

Keep a trump card

It is advantageous to have a trump card to play if needed, the question is when, and whether the adversary has such cards as well. (183)

The documented lie ✓

The purpose of this tactic is to mislead the adversary about your limits. People tend to accept the other fellow’s cost as a lower limit since it is fairly well accepted that few people are willing to sell things below cost. (184)

As a general rule, people have been trained to believe things that are presented in writing without questioning their authenticity. Some negotiators, therefore, arrange to have documentation for their statements deliberately shown to the adversary, where the adversary may be allowed to sneak a look at the documents at an opportune time. Purchasing agents have been known to leave their offices deliberately to allow a sales rep to sneak a look at competitive bids on the desk. (184)

The red herring ✓

Sometimes the adroit manager must drag a red herring across the path of the adversary in order to confuse him or divert his attention. (185)

Properly executed, the red herring tactic is a fairly safe one. Even if the adversary suspect its existence, they can do little except have their suspicions. (186)

Be unreasonable

Sometimes one must be aggressive in negotiation, but one should not expect to use this tactic with those whom you must continue working with on a friendly, social basis. (186)

Keep talking

As long as people are talking, there is little likelihood of fighting. It seldom pays to sever communications with your adversary if you are trying to bargain with him. This is akin to keeping the door open. Frequently, if one keeps talking with an adversary, some basis for a compromise or accommodation can be worked out. (187)

Keep quiet

When you talk you risk appearing the fool or giving something away that could be used against you. Use silence to allow a talkative adversary to reveal information about himself. (188)

Stall ✓

Time pressure can be used to make an adversary capitulate. Tactics include: plain delay, playing ill, being unable to attend meetings because of other meetings, etc. (189)

Capitalize on defeat

Into the life of every manager some rain must fall. He will lose. However, the adept loser capitalizes on defeat by extracting something from the winner as a consolation prize. (190)


Careful listening discloses a great many things. (192)

Waltz them to the courthouse steps

Many foes refused to negotiate seriously until their threatened with being in court (193)

Hence, the manager in such cases should not dawdle in negotiations, but should file suit, taking the adversary right up to the courthouse steps to negotiate from a stronger position. (194)

The grapevine

A useful technique for communicating indirectly and informally (196)

Take a vote ✓

If the manager is confident that he has the majority of his people behind him on a plan, he can pretend to have a certain degree of neutrality and propose that a vote should be taken to decide what should be done on the matter. (197)

Force the issue

Sometimes others need to be forced to make a decision (197)

Make them think they’ve won

In instituting some new plan or program, clever managers stress to those people who are adversely affected by it how that program will benefit them. (199)

Avoid personalities

Avoid, at all costs, negotiating on the basis of personalities. Instead, focus your arguments around the facts of the case (199)

Plant the seed

Sometimes the manager must be unobtrusive in persuading others, and can do so by planting a seed in the mind of the right person. (201)

Where the body is buried: blackmail

An extremely dangerous tactic that should not be taken unless one is certain of the facts and their hold over the adversary (202)

Pay them off

“Bribery is a fact of life and economic endeavors”; beyond money, a manager can bestow titles, positions, or favors. (203)

White hat – black hat

Great advantages accrue to a negotiator who can arrange to have on his side both the villain and a hero because villains can say and do a great many things that heroes cannot. Conversely, heroes can accomplish a great many things closed off to villains. (205)

Hitch a lie to a truth

If you tell the adversary several recognizable truths, he is more likely to believe that the lie told him is also the truth. (206)

Make the future look more expensive ✓

You must create the picture that, by agreeing to your proposition now, no matter how expensive it will be to him, it will be significantly more expensive to delay. (208)

Salting the mine

You can make a property you wish to sell more appealing and you should be wary “when an adversary exposes such wealth because that exposure is not in itself good judgment, nor normal good business practice. You’re being hustled.” (209)

The architect’s window ✓

An architect who does not want her beautiful designs marred, may intentionally include an ugly feature (displaced window) so that clients will focus on its removal, which she will seemingly grudgingly accommodate. There is a risk that some clod will actually think the window is beautiful where it is. (210)

Set the hook

Do not try to close a deal until the adversary has in some way been committed (213)

Establish expertise early

Once you have established yourself as knowledgeable about a subject, others are more careful about trying to run a bluff on you. (214)

How does the land lie? Where do things start?

Ask questions early in a negotiation to find out the other party state of mind, thoughts, and plans. It will save you lots of time and chagrin later when such information pops up the block you. (216)

The grand prize

Your tactical advantages are vastly enhanced if you have dangled before your adversary some grand prize that can only be theirs if they don’t misbehave. (216)

Reagle’s addenda

I’ve start added my own which I’ve seen over the years.

The boogeyman threat

Threaten that a much worse alternative is bound to happen unless your opponents comply.

This is a variation of Make the future look more expensive, complemented by Speed and Using a hatchet man.

Spring a deadline

Once a discussion or policy is in a state that is relatively acceptable to you, spring an unrealistic deadline requiring that the work be immediately finished.

This is complemented by Make the future look more expensive and The boogeyman threat.

Oops, ran out of time

During a meeting, leave agenda items that are time-wasters or disadvantageous to your interest to the end of the agenda so as to receive short shrift.

Also see step-by-step.

Blame the bosses

Attribute unpopular policies to others, such as those as higher-up, and claim you are only the reluctant messenger obliged to see them through.

This is a variation of Run for cover and the opposite of Be the fall guy.