‘Strategic capitulation’ is a term used in behaviour management programmes to refer to the technique of giving in to whatever is being demanded by someone who is being aggressive and potentially violent. It is intended as a last resort. The way it works is this: if you have someone (child or adult) who is behaving in a hostile, aggressive or threatening way, there are various methods that can be used to handle the situation (distraction, for example). But, if those techniques don’t work (no technique is guaranteed to work), then it can be safer and wiser to give in and give them what they want than to risk being assaulted.
Unless you work in a setting where aggression and violence are a feature of the work, you may never come across this type of situation. However, the notion of ‘strategic capitulation’ can be extended to apply to a much wider set of circumstances. It is a useful concept that can help us to realize that sometimes we just need to give up, to accept that we are not going to be able to win the day.
This is captured by the saying of ‘live to fight another day’, although it does not necessarily have to be a fight, literally or metaphorically that we are talking about. Persistence is generally a good thing. There are many positives in life that people would not be able to achieve if they gave up too easily. Sticking it out is generally a good strategy. However, there will be times when it makes more sense to opt for strategic capitulation.
The key work here, though, is ‘strategic’. It is not about capitulating just because you are tired or there is some other reason why you don’t want to be persistent. It is about making a well-informed strategic decision that the wisest option is to give up on your efforts – which is exactly how the technique is intended to be used in a behaviour management context. So, we have to have our wits about us, rather than just choose this option without thinking it through carefully.
This idea is likely to be of most use to people who are very determined and may even take a pride in being so. This is because, at times, the desire to be successful in whatever you are trying to do can mean determination crosses the line and becomes doggedness and the signals that this situation is not going to work out are being missed. We have to know when to quit.
Basically it is a matter of balance. There are those people who are likely to have problems because they give up too easily, they are too easily discouraged or disheartened. At the other extreme, there are people who put their heart and soul into what they do – something that is very positive and helpful as a general rule – and can therefore run the risk that they don’t (or won’t) recognize when the time to let go has come. So, once again, what is needed is a healthy balance between the two potentially unhelpful extremes.
Of course, this may not always be an easy balance to achieve, but it will certainly be worth the effort, given that putting more and more effort into something that is simply not going to work out will involve a significant waste of time, effort and energy and, in some cases, money or other resources too. As with so many other things, the more often we are able to achieve that balance, the easier it becomes and the more benefit we can potentially gain from cultivating this approach.