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Mental Models - Issue #52 - The Golden Bridge 🐍

Mental Models Weekly
Mental Models - Issue #52 - The Golden Bridge 🐍
By Julia Clavien • Issue #52 • View online
I’m back!
The ongoing Ukraine-Russia war got me thinking about conflict, and I had to write this one about The Golden Bridge.

What is The Golden Bridge?
Here’s a translation from the ancient Chinese military classic The Art of War:
When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.
Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across. *
- Sun Tzu
In simpler words, always give your opponent a way out. Allow them a way to retreat - via a “golden bridge” - without losing face.
Why is this interesting?
The Golden Bridge is a very useful concept to keep in mind when you’re in conflict. It’s worth considering:
How can you allow the other side to save face?
How can you allow the other side to feel like they’ve won in some way?
Allowing your opponent to retreat safely over a “golden bridge” can help them back down and avoid feeling any humiliation about the defeat, which can achieve a quicker and better resolution.
This is pretty useful to keep in mind professionally in negotiations. Anyone who’s been in a legal battle will appreciate this solicitor’s advice:
Even if you know you have the power to crush your opponent, allow them the possibility to retreat so that you do not deplete your resources, time or money unnecessarily.
And hey, you might find it useful in your personal life too - disputes with partners, family or friends would often benefit from a golden bridge!
Photo by Michael Jasmund
Photo by Michael Jasmund
Want to go deeper?
🐍 This reminds me of the advice to never corner a snake. (I’ve been spending some time in Sonoma and it’s rattlesnake season!)
🔖 Here’s a golden bridge example from a lawyer about a disagreement with a building contractor.
📖 The full text of The Art of War (free).
📖 There’s a huge cultural diversity in how a golden bridge would work best, The Culture Map is a great read if you’re interested in cultural differences. At least read the blurb:
Americans precede anything negative with three nice comments; French, Dutch, Israelis, and Germans get straight to the point; Latin Americans and Asians are steeped in hierarchy; Scandinavians think the best boss is just one of the crowd. It’s no surprise that when they try and talk to each other, chaos breaks out.
😉 Disclaimer: this translation of Sun Tzu’s quote is disputed, but this newsletter is intended for pragmatists not purists
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Julia Clavien

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