Negotiate With the Terrorists

I heard Finnish one politician saying “you don’t negotiate with terrorists” and have heard same from American politicians. I’ve heard some bosses, managers and producers having similar attitude: they have certain guidelines that must be obeyed and which cannot be negotiated. I think there’s couple of major problems with this attitude

First of all, if one chooses not to negotiate with certain group he might mistakenly ignore people who actually do not belong to that group. If a company chooses to ignore “hostile customers” they might miss valuable lessons. They might ignore comments that were made by some loyal customer just because he first seems arrogant, and “company policy says we don’t deal with arrogant people”.

The second, and more important point, is that whenever one choose a strict position the progress might stop. Like when one applies rule “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” they automatically miss the possibility of finding the solution via means of communication. One of the verses from Dao de Ching says:


A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.

Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.

It doesn’t require reading a book to realize that those who don’t bend, are in danger to break. Common sense can tell you this. The moment somebody sets strict a rule, he is in danger of losing the battle so to speak – or is forcing all parties towards a conflict.

The point here is not that everybody should be allowed to do anything they want. I believe in achieving results: if there’s a situation where the result must be achieved or some people will lose jobs then it is reality and people need to deal with it. But, the moment somebody forces other people the way how those results must be achieved (by setting strict guidelines) and chooses not to negotiate about them, he is limiting his own options. It might happen that he could find an alternative solution with some of the team members that would achieve the necessary results, by letting them act their way. It’s useful to negotiate, since it might give you what you want without need of a conflict.

There’s hardly many situations where one should not choose to negotiate over something.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Kal_Torak: good point.
    Kevin: yes well put
    Juuso: Interesting thread. I actually think that negotiating with terrorists could lead to a greater understanding of their issues but whether any action to change/compromise would be taken by “capitalist” countries is another matter. Of course change by both parties may be in order, who knows? I’m no politician, but then I also have no hidden agenda…

  2. It seems to have boiled down to arguing semantics of what exactly a “terrorist” is, and not whether or not you should “negotiate” with them.

  3. I always find it intriguing that “Negotiating with ” always seems to be taken as a one-way street, or something that one party is condemned for not initiating.
    Here’s a simple thought problem. I’ll try to avoid making the easy correlative generalization of customers to terrorists;

    Does the responsibility to open up negotiations always fall upon the dominant party? Is there enough responsibility in this matter for the burden to be shared by both parties?

    If you’ve answered that some of the burden falls upon both parties, then we should consider what actions each party might use to open up said negotiations. Further, we should also consider what actions each party might engage in that would invalidate their inclusion to the negotiating table.

    If a customer is willing to immediately go to the extremes to state their case, and these extremes are actions that cannot be countered in a logical, codial manner, then I feel it is the right of the other party to ignore the customer’s demands. Failure to ignore the customer under these circumstances validates their methods for any future customers.

    Just a little food for thought.

  4. @Sargon: Without taking any political stance – since I really don’t think this is the place to discuss about politics.

    I already answered to what you wrote, like:
    “Nevertheless, I think one must not be submissive – but willing to negotiate, if that’s possible – not because some group has been “labeled”.”

  5. Just because not negotiating with terrorists resulted badly, doesn’t mean the negotiating with terrorists won’t bring even worse results.
    If you look today at the relations of japan and the US, as awfaul as it might sound, the bombs did achieve some good results. Perhaps it wasnt because of the bombs, but it might have been.
    Japan was a very proud fascist nation, they did a lot of horrible things to their neighbours. It might have been that these two bombs were what that broke their several hundred years of pride, and turned them into the humble and peace loving culture they are today.
    I know it is just a fictional movie, but the movie invaders from mars can show you how some people or aliens can exploit your negotiating and submission to them.
    Maybe negotiating will work with terrorists, maybe it will bring evn more terrible results then you can even dream of (Did you dream of what happend on the september 11?)
    But saying, lets try negotiating because it might work, isnt very wise.
    Because here you may pay costly for failed attempts.
    Do you think that bin laden is negotiatable?
    What would you say to him?

    P.S. are you sure you want to enter into politices in your blog?

  6. @Jake: Well… I believe we’ve tried “don’t negotiated with the terrorists” for quite a long time now – and where has it lead? I do believe that there are times when people need to be strict.

    I once saw a document about World War 2 where Japanese were warned, but once they saw that “Americans are trying to negotiate” they thought they were “weak” – and rest is history…. Hiroshima. I’m not indicating that Japanese/Americans were terrorists, but I’m just pointing out that choosing negotiating in some situations must be done really carefully. Although, if the other option would have been “we don’t negotiate them, we nuke them” the situation might have been even worse.

    Nevertheless, I think one must not be submissive – but willing to negotiate, if that’s possible – not because some group has been “labeled”.

    @Sargon: First of all… no, I have got really bad experience with customers ;) Secondly, it was not my intention to even hint comparison between terrorists and bad customers – I tried to compare the strict attitude that might be harmful.

    @Toraux: “when someone engages in physical violence to try and get their way then they’re already beyond negotiations themselves.”
    First of all, I agree that sometimes situations go beyond negotiations – but labeling somebody a terrorist (even when they might not have done any physical violence) is bit problematic. With that definition, how many armies in the world are not “terrorists”?

  7. Battles are won with trickery and deception.
    If you really want to hurt someone, first act as if you are his best friend.
    But the comparassion between terrorists and bad customers is completly out of its place.
    I am starting to think you had really bad experience with customers.

  8. I definitely don’t agree with negotiating with terrorists, for a variety of reasons. Negotiating with customers and employees is different, but when someone engages in physical violence to try and get their way then they’re already beyond negotiations themselves. I don’t think this is a reasonable parallel to make because of that, most hostile customers don’t come in and blow themselves up.

  9. Eh, that Anonymous post is me. Forgot to enter the Name.

  10. @ Jake

    There’s a difference between communication and capitulation.

  11. yes I agree. But I think the idea is that if they negotiate they set a precedent that may mean other potential terrorists think “Hmm, OK they negotiated so now maybe we should do some terrorism too”. I wonder if this could occur in the workplace or with your customers?

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