Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Being Nice Pays Off

Once the trenches of WWI were fully established and ran hundreds of kilometres, leaving your foxhole to charge the enemy position was a surefire way to get shot. That’s why French soldiers came up with a rule to reduce casualties in the battle against the Germans: fire twice, but never go first.

Once the Jerries caught on, it worked splendidly.

Why? They understood the French were on their best behaviour. 

If they didn’t attack, neither did the French. If they did attack, the French would return fire aggressively. And no matter how many times they launched an offensive, the French would always be forgiving and fall back on their rule of ‘shoot twice, not first’.

Although war raged on, it did so under much better circumstances. Circumstances of cooperation.

This rule of the Great War comes remarkably close to the most successful strategy in any long-term game played with the same people: tit for tat, where you act nice until your opponent plays dirty and forces you to retaliate. 

But unlike the French in WWI, you don’t try to inflict twice as much pain on your enemy. That may lead to revenge and long-lasting contempt. 

Instead, you do to them exactly as they did to you. Then you forget all about your opponent’s transgressions and return to your nice and cooperative ways.

Even if your opponent is the conniving type, they will likely play nice because they know they can’t push you around without consequence and that you’ll return the favour anyway.

Put simply, people tend to be cooperative if that leads to better results than being an asshole.

And if the audience sees that you’re generous to your opponents, who do you think they will want to play with when it’s their turn?

Being nice pays off as long as you have the guts and resources to stand your ground.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach