T&D: Ending an Attack-Defend Spiral

Something I Learned From Neil Rackham in 1981

I was working at Motorola’s Training & Education Center (MTEC) at HQ for the Manufacturing, Materials and Purchasing functions across 5 Business Sectors.

Neil was working with MTEC staff working in the Sales arenas implementing SPIN Selling – before the book came out.

Huthwaite also had a Win-Win Negotiations program and I got tasked with working on that with Neil and his associates – who were back in Sheffield England – for my Purchasing target audiences, plus all Motorola Sales target audiences, plus Government negotiators – who built “Black Boxes” for the Feds – as we all liked to joke – back in the day.


Before flying to Sheffield via London’s Heathrow to meet with John Carlisle and observe him delivering this program twice – I and other staff from MTEC met with Neil at Motorola’s HQ where we all learned a little bit about their Win-Win Negotiations program.

Two of my take-a-ways from that day included these gems:

 1) The best way to stop an Attack-Defend Spiral was to stop Defending after an Attack. More on that later.


2)  – I learned about Heated Agreements. Which is where two or more people argue strenuously before discovering that they are actually in agreement – but where they were using inconsistent language. I’m sure you’ve seen that kind of exchange before.

Where at some point someone says, “Oh. You mean ….” and then they discover – what I learned over a decade later from a colleague at SWI – Svenson & Wallace Inc. – in 1994 – would fit the phrase:

It’s not Just Semantics. It’s Always Semantics.

So watch out for that.

The Attack-Defend Spiral

In Negotiations – or in other types of Communications – there is sometimes an Attack.

Sometimes it’s a strategic move – intended to throw the other person/side off, and put them on their heels – so to speak.

Most “negotiators” default to some defense – with a Defend communications behavior.

That Defend communications behavior which leads to another Attack communications behavior which leads to another Defend … and another Attack, etc., etc. Thus – the Spiral.

Spiral also suggesting heading downward – and auguring into the ground. Not a good place to be – and sometimes hard to recover from.


What Neil taught us was that the best way to break the spiral – or stop the spiral from getting traction – was to Not Defend – but to use another one of their other Communications Behaviors – to break the spiral.


Note: the Huthwaite SPIN Selling program used 11 such “communication behaviors” and the Win-Win Negotiations program used 13.

I won’t get into those 11 or 13 behaviors in this post – and I have written/posted about some of them previously. I’ve written/posted about 6 of them – which I typically combine into these 4:

  • GI – Giving Information
  • SI – Seeking Information
  • S – Summarizing/ TU – Testing Understanding
  • A – Attack/ D – Defend

Responding to an Attack with a SI – Seeking Information

Seeking Information – asking a question or eliciting more via a statement – in response to an Attack is very straightforward. One could simply say, “Tell me more.” Or some variation on that.

And then use Active Listening techniques to ensure that the other party knows that you’ve heard them.


Responding to an Attack with a S – Summarizing

It’s simple. After an Attack Statement is made – one can simply Summarize the Attack.

It let’s the person know that you heard them – it’s an Active Listening technique.


Responding to an Attack with a TU – Testing Understanding

It might be seen as simple – but I think it’s often trickier.


I usually like this response the best – as it can add a little humor – and make take some of the steam out of the attack.

But be careful. Humor is tricky. It’s best if the people already know each other – and if the Attack is more of a ploy than a real hot issue.


It may be a Heated Agreement or an actual Attack-Defend Spiral.

Semantics – is tricky.

As Always - It Depends -- Buzz T-Shirt Logo 003b

Try Seeking Information, or Summarizing, or Testing Understanding to attempt to resolve them ASAP.

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One comment on “T&D: Ending an Attack-Defend Spiral

  1. Pingback: T&D/PI: Testing Understanding | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

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