What do I mean by war? Certainly not physically armed battle.
War to me is any time you (or your children) are threatened – physically, emotionally and/or financially – or any time you are facing litigation. Litigation is war.
Make no mistake about it.
I was blessed in my early career to be tutored by a lawyer who believed preparation is the key factor in determining success in litigation. He was a wonderful mentor whom I appreciate to this day, but he wasn’t the smartest lawyer I’ve known. Nor the best orator. Nor the most experienced.
Yet he passed down the single most important lesson anyone in the legal field can learn.
Back then, The Art of War by Sun Tzu was required reading in law schools around the country. We spent a lot of time discussing the lessons in that brilliant book as they related to the law. Over the years, I’ve come to know that some of those lessons apply to daily life.
Sun Tzu believed that all wars were won or lost in the preparation stages, and believed strongly that victory can be assured without ever fighting. He was a master of deception, and his strategies are used to this day not only in conflict situations but business and personal relationships.
Things to consider when you know you’re facing litigation or negotiations which involve your future and/or your children:
- Knowledge is power. It’s a cliche for a reason. Particularly when you have knowledge that the other side doesn’t know you have. This is why it’s so important to keep things to yourself until the prime moment for disclosing them. I once was involved in a personal injury trial that we lost because the other side knew a crucial piece of information that we did not. We kept wondering why they didn’t want to settle – it was a pretty run of the mill car wreck case. We went to trial and presented our evidence which included the Plaintiff, our client, testifying. The defense attorney eviscerated him as soon as he started his cross examination and showed the jury that our client had a habit of not telling the truth. None of it had anything to do with the wreck, but our client’s credibility was shattered.
- Most of the time, the most reasonable person wins. Not always, but most of the time. Judges and juries hate overly emotional, angry, irrational parties to lawsuits. You absolutely must learn to control your emotions, and think & act like a Warrior.
- Learn to choose your battles. Reasonable people understand that sometimes you actually need to lose a battle in order to win outright in the end. Also, not every fight you’re invited to is worth your time or energy. This is especially true if you have children and are going through a divorce or a domestic breakup. Learn to communicate strictly about the children’s needs and welfare. Leave the rest of the crap behind. If you’re headed for Court, no one cares that your ex called you a bitch 12 times when no one else was around. They only care about the welfare of the children. Stick to that, and be a reasonable, passionate advocate for your children.
- Know your strengths AND your weaknesses. Take a scathing self-inventory. In order to successfully choose the right lawyer, you need to know yourself. Your lawyer needs to be strong where you’re weak so he or she can fill in for you. (Then let your lawyer do his or her job – DO WHAT YOU’RE TOLD.)
- Know your opponent’s strengths AND weaknesses. If you’ve been in an intimate relationship for any length of time, this should be a piece of cake but be as objective as you can. Use your knowledge with good timing.
- Capitalize on momentum. Start winning early and keep the momentum going. Tell yourself 1,000 times a day that you are a Warrior, and no enemy formed against you can prosper. Mind your MindSet! When you win a skirmish, it sets the other side back. As the Carolina Panthers say: Keep Pounding! Just be smart about it. Keep Pounding doesn’t mean keep going about a particular situation or incident after you’ve won the battle. Take your win and prepare for the next round.
- Use surprise tactics. There’s a reason armies strike at night. In olden times, the enemy couldn’t see them coming because of the cover of darkness. Do things differently. If historically, you’re a yeller and a screamer, be completely rational and calm. If you’re usually calm, it never hurts to get in someone’s face a time or two. Again, wait until the timing is advantageous. Hit fast, hit hard then get out or get away.
In the very first conversation I had with my lawyer about Walkaway Bob’s infidelity, we discussed strategy at length. We discussed so many scenarios over the weeks that followed. I did the same with my private investigator.
When you’re paying someone for their experience and expertise, for heaven’s sake, LISTEN TO THEM AND TAKE THEIR ADVICE.
You don’t know better than they do. You know your ex better than they do, but they’ve heard the same scenario hundreds of times. They know the odds. They know the legal system. If you live in a small town, they know the judges. They have cocktails with them on Saturday nights.
I listened and I learned. Only once did I not do what I was told, and I tipped my hand earlier than necessary. Luckily, I was dealing with a spouse whose stupidity became my advantage. You may not have that luxury.
As I sat on the sofa in our home that night waiting on Walkaway Bob, I thought of all the lessons I’ve learned in my lifetime. I thought about being prepared and using the element of surprise. I thought about my ultimate goal – leverage in our financial settlement.
I thought about Sun Tzu’s teachings – fighting without fighting, chaos presenting opportunity, losing battles in order to win the war, knowing myself & knowing my “enemy”, etc.
I threw one piece of advice from Stephen Covey in as well – begin with the end in mind. The End Game was always front and center. I knew what I wanted and why I wanted it. Having a clear purpose – other than revenge – adds much needed fuel to your endeavors.
In the end, I lost the battle FOR my marriage but won the war FOR my financial life.
He never stood a chance. He never knew me at all. He never considered my Warrior Spirit. It took him all of 36 hours to cave, and he’s been caving ever since.
And now I know that victory over an unworthy opponent brings no satisfaction.
Not for those of us who enjoy engaging with worthy opponents – whether it’s in daily discourse, the horse show ring, the backgammon board, politics, or, life itself.
Negotiations and litigation aren’t for the faint of heart. If your future or your children’s future depends on you, you have no choice but to become a Warrior.
*It doesn’t matter your opinion of him – read Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal. He’s the best contemporary Sun Tzu master I know. If you can’t stand putting royalties in The Donald’s pocket, here’s a blog that distills the book into the finer points.