AOW Card Deck Lesson 6: Provoke Your Adversary’s Reaction

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Today’s lesson from The Art of War Sun Tzu Strategy Deck comes from the eight of hearts titled, “Provoke Your Adversary’s Reaction” Strategy-Test your adversary’s response before committing to an action. Basis-An adversary’s prior response to an action lessens the guesswork in your planning.


When playing these tactical decision games it’s important to keep in mind that there is no one scientific solution to a tactical dilemma and the worst thing you can do is make no decision at all. These tactical decision games are about teaching “how to think” not “what to think.”

When you interact with an adversary how do you, best predict his intentions? People we deal with are emotional and at times what they say is not what they mean or we may be in a position where the circumstances are rapidly unfolding and we are not quite sure what his intentions are. In these types of situations an important strategy to be mindful of, may be to provoke a reaction from the person to see if his actions match his words. We can trust action more than words and provoking them may be the only way to a successful plan and outcome.

STOP HERE: Think about the STRATEGY AND BASIS behind PROVOKE YOUR ADVERSARY'S REACTION, where, when and why you may use this approach on the street and share it here. Then continue and take a look at my example:

There he was the suspect in a domestic violence call where he had physically assaulted his girlfriend. Three of us responded and located the suspect on the upper floor of the apartment where he physically postured, chest pumped high, hands flailing, finger pointing verbally berating, insulting and threatening us with bodily harm, if we took one step closer. His language was harsh and verbally abusive laced with swears and fighting words but he never took one step in our direction. He possessed no weapons, so his threats were hands on physical force only. He pointed and got louder as we dispersed out in different directions to take positions of advantage while keeping our distance. After a few minutes I got the sense from watching his body language that he may be all bark with no bite but was not quite sure. I suspected that if I challenged him it would provoke him to respond either violently if he was so inclined or if I was right; he would come around to our way of thinking and voluntarily comply. I signaled my fellow officer’s quickly that I would take the role of contact officer and began the interaction with a conversation and asking the subject to comply and come along with us because he had committed the crime of domestic assault and battery and he was indeed going to be arrested. He responded in the same way as described above with a profanity laced rant about how he would kick our %^&$ing asses and that he was not going without a fight. I continued to negotiate for a few more minutes but there was no give in the subjects emotional display.

At this point I made the conscious decision to provoke him. I pointed my finger at him and moved towards him using language and a tone much like his own that explained he was doing no such thing. While we were prepared for the fight, and other force options (OC spray) his response was suddenly much different as his head sunk between his shoulders and he backed away, turning and placing his hands behind his back simultaneously submitting to his arrest, exclaiming in tears, why do you have to talk to me that way. I did not mean what i was saying i am just pissed off!

Often times when people are emotionally charged their displays of rage are in an effort to deceive or lure us into thinking or believing they have certain intentions. In this case the subject’s display of anger was in an effort to bluff us into thinking he had control but a quick tactical move to provoke his true intentions took the guesswork out of the equation. Sun Tzu said; “your enemy speaks humbly while building up forces. He is planning to advance. The enemy talks aggressively and pushes as if to advance. He is planning retreat.” It’s important to keep in mind we can be fooled by emotional displays in the ebb and flow of conflict so we must focus our efforts on reading people and the environment we find ourselves in and keep our own emotions in check, while provoking others and be prepared to adapt our tactics when necessary.

Stay Oriented!
Fred