I once worked for an extremely successful entrepreneur.

He ran a flooring company which did surprisingly well. His real talent lay, not so much in his ability to sell at the right price, but rather to buy at the right price.

Good margins emanate from two sources:

  • Selling at the right price


  • Buying at the right price.

Well, this man knew that his sales prices were too competitive to play with – the game was in the buying.

He called it ‘brinkmanship’. Thus defined:

  • BRINKMANSHIP – the art or practice of pursuing a dangerous policy to the limits of safety before stopping.

This is the first time I actually have looked the meaning of this word, but it could not have described the situation more accurately.

How so?

Whilst he was in the throws of negotiating an eye-watering deal, he would fidget and stutter like a complete idiot – literally!

The best part of his little performance was the way he positioned himself half-hidden behind the indoor plant in his office. This plant had a wayward branch that would dangle over his face – he would sit there brushing the leaves away from his face as though he had no control over his life!.

This little charade was hysterically funny – he looked like a half-wit! The people who came to the meeting were immediately lulled into complacency, thinking they were dealing with an idiot. They were soon to find out that they had left themselves open a particularly shrewd and razor-sharp mind.

It wasn’t that he was cleverly pushing and shoving the price points. He gained subterranean advantages around terms and settlement discounts and return policies and penalties for non-performance. The opposing party gleefully agreed to terms that they were convinced were either be forgotten or would just never eventuate.

Of course they were in for a big surprise, for this silly little man sitting with the branch hanging in his face, knew exactly how to turn these issues into significant advantages. And although they soon conceded that they dealing with a particularly artful negotiator, they fell into the trap time and time again.

Playing dumb is the easiest way to gain an advantage. It opens up the opponent to the vagrancies of their own ego and weakens their defences. They either reveal too much information or they agree to things that they think you’re too stupid to follow through on.

And on the other side, be cautious when you meet a successful businessman who appears dopy and stupid.

Watch carefully because he’ll be playing you on!