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'Marines Don't Do That': Mastering The Split-Second Decision | LinkedIn

Michael Wheeler
Professor at Harvard Business School

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'Marines Don't Do That': Mastering The Split-Second Decision

December 16, 2013

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Heres another three-second negotiation. If youre looking for something cheerful, though, maybe you should read it some other time. Its a troubling story and far from most peoples experience. Nevertheless, it offers powerful life lessons. Imagine that youre a British Marine commando in Afghanistan. Your unit comes across an insurgent, badly wounded but unarmed. One of your fellow soldiers, seething with rage, points his pistol at him and is poised to shoot. Shuffle off this mortal coil, he says. Its nothing you wouldnt do to us.

Michael Wheeler 'Marines Don't Do That': Mastering The Split-Second Decision


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You have mere seconds to act. Youre not close enough to restrain him. What would you say?

If you weighed your options for more than an instant, times up. Its too late. As it was for the others at the scene. Before they could act or speak, the angry soldier shot the defenseless captive at close range, then turned to his fellow commandos and said, Obviously this doesnt go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention. But word did get out in the following days. The whole incident had been videoed by helmet cameras. (The grainy picture posted here is from that film.) The soldier was recently found guilty of murder, the first such conviction in Britain since World War II. Handing down a life sentence, the judge said, You treated that Afghan man with contempt and murdered him in cold blood. By doing so you have betrayed your corps . . . [and] potentially increased the risk of revenge attacks against your fellow service personnel. 1/8


'Marines Don't Do That': Mastering The Split-Second Decision | LinkedIn

It was a tragedy all the way around. For the victim, most certainly. Also for the convicted soldier who had an otherwise unblemished service record. And likewise for the troops who witnessed the killing and anguish over what they might have done to prevent it. There is no simple answer that would guarantee a different outcome, but some military experts believe that the murder might have been prevented if just one other person in that unit had the presence of mind to say four words: Marines dont do that. Replay that short sentence in your head as if it were directed to you. Note that it does not include the words stop, order, or wrong. That omission makes the statement all the stronger. Its aim is to put the spotlight on the person, not the act. Marines is the most important word. It comes first and works on two levels. It tells the soldier, Remember who you are. Dont renounce your identity. Uttered by a fellow marine, it also says, Your brothers are here with you. You may think Im reading too much meaning into that sentence. When I came across an analysis of the incident by an ethicist, Paul Valley, I forwarded it to a former student of mine, Major David Dixon, recently retired from the US Marine Corps. David kindly gave me permission to quote his reply: Wow, this is extremely apropos. A few months ago I spoke at the University of Washington about how the Marine Corps teaches ethical decision making in situations exactly like this. . .. This is exactly what we teach: Marines don't do that. Verbatim, it is in my PowerPoint slides. According to David, every US Marine received this training in 2012, from senior personnel to the most the most junior enlisted troops. Its more than a technique or a tactic. Instead its an expression of a deep sense of values and responsibilities. David says that U.S. Marines are taught poise, presence, and moral courage from Day 1 in the service. If the Marine next to you is falling asleep in class, you must have the moral courage to wake him up and motivate him to stay awake. If you are caught sleeping in class at boot camp, not only do you get in trouble for laziness, but the Marine to your left and to your right get in trouble for lack of moral courage b/c they should have corrected you when you were in the wrong. Now lets take a big leap to see how the same principles apply if you need to persuade someone else to do the right thing. Perhaps you want another party to treat you fairly, even though they know youre in a weak bargaining position. Or you might see a colleague about to trip up by padding his expense account. Dont look away. Have moral courage yourself. Step one is summoning the better side of the other persons nature. That doesnt require sermonizing. Instead you might merely ask, Would you comfortable telling your children what youre planning to do? Start with the fundamental matter of character. After thatif you have more than three secondsyou can debate specific ethical boundaries. Most important of all, of course, is having friends ourselves who will have the courage to challenge us if we seem to have lost sight ofpeople, who we aspire to be. and more... Search for jobs, companies,
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***** Harvard Business School Professor Michael Wheeler is the author of The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World (Simon & Schuster). He has been a key figure at the renowned Program on Negotiation (PON) at Harvard Law School since its founding 30 years ago. During the 2013-14 academic year, he continues to teach in executive programs at HBS and PON, and is also a visiting professor at Harvards Kennedy School of Government.

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'Marines Don't Do That': Mastering The Split-Second Decision | LinkedIn

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Andrew Haslam Expert in litigation support; strategy and implementation. As an ex British Army Officer, I have a lot of distain for this article and it's inherent assumption that "if only the UK marines were taught the same as the US Marines" this wouldn't have happened. We are steeped in the Geneva convention (as was shown by the soldier's coments), many other factors went into this situation and a four word 20/20 hindsight analysis helps noone.
Like (19) Reply(4) 52 minutes ago

Greg K., Rob Clark, Matt Tavormina, +16

4 Replies Andy Cucchiara Vice President Franchise Operations at ZIPS Franchising LLC Could not agree with you more!
Like 11 minutes ago

Kevin Rockwell Executive Director at "Get to Work America!" Well said.

Like 26 minutes ago

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David Horsewood Owner, Fire by Light LLC I have learned to be slow to judge people in situations I have never experienced. Those at war and those fighting crime live lives few of us understand. I have also learned to be slow to judge those in situations similar to me. Often enough, the day comes when I do the very thing I judged harshly. Does that mean we can just let everyone off the hook? Nope. There are consequences to actions. That's why part of being loving is holding people accountable. Quietly watching "not yet that bad" behavior sometimes leads to horrific consequences that could have been avoided. Quietly judging has little value. Have the heart (courage and love) to approach people and speak out when necessary.
Like (17) Reply 1 hour ago

Leonard C. Lowe, Mark T., Michael Miller, +14

Wil Allsopp 2nd Principal Consultant at Verizon Business He was an insurgent, I would have killed him too.
Like (4) Reply(6) 1 hour ago

Jenna Fullmer, Glenn Allward, Evan Owen, +1


6 Replies Jim Molchan

'Marines Don't Do That': Mastering The Split-Second Decision | LinkedIn

Business Manager, Contract Manufacturing at Kellogg Company When you ask some to have 'moral courage' that may mean taking on greater risk to their life some will say, 'Yes Sir' in the classroom and 'no way in hell' once in the thick of things. In the Afghanistan conflict the Geneva Convention was meaningless to the enemies the Marines were facing there. Stepping back to a Macro level, the Geneva Convention and the Strict Rules of Engagement, being followed were leading to increased US/UK casualties. The military, and especially the political leaders were trying to have a 'clean' war and maintain a moral high ground in front of the world. What you had in this case is a Sargent making a decision that the political goals of the mission were less important than his own behind. The more important 'Convention(al thinking)' to him was that an injured fighter can heal and come back to be a threat another day, but a dead one cannot.
Like (1) 31 minutes ago

Jason Ford, CCS, QCB

Fred Davis Comm'l Hardscapes Technical Rep I agree Wil A. In the business of war I'm sure the thought of "Kill or Be Killed" is at the front of most soldier's minds. The term "insurgent" is a politically correct term to denote "enemy". By taking out the unarmed enemy, he may have saved the lives of his own troops - the article doesn't say the insurgent wasn't actually wounded (could be faking), and it doesn't say if his voice box was intact (allowing the enemy to communicate to his team to form an ambush). War is evil and nobody wishes for it, especially those who volunteer to join the military. My initial instinct, while reading the article, would been to take out the enemy without giving away my position.
Like (1) 44 minutes ago

Jenna Fullmer

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Eric Thomas, MBA Vice President Development & Sales at Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. C.S. Lewis
Like (11) Reply 1 hour ago

Danny Chung, Alyssa Paul, Philip Squire, +8

William Cooper Business Operations Manager and Candidate Liaison Don't know where to start with this article, I feel angry... The comparisons of US soldiers ethic's and training vs. British makes me feel physically unwell. Maybe its the timing of this article that rattles me.. But its probably the fact you've used it as a 'thought leading' example useful to other areas of life, such as posting it on LinkedIn, the business world. Situations in those environments are unique in so many ways it is arrogance beyond belief that you think you can analyse it in such a short article and 'enlighten' others via his mistakes.
Like (8) Reply 1 hour ago

Jagadesan Ramamoorthy, Chris Mayfield, Lucy Newmarch-Christensen, +5



'Marines Don't Do That': Mastering The Split-Second Decision | LinkedIn

Luke Coker Marketing Executive at econique If the tables were turned and it was the marine who was wounded, the insurgent would of not thought twice...
Like (5) Reply(1) 55 minutes ago

Jagadesan Ramamoorthy, Jenna Fullmer, Dave B., +2

1 Reply Philip Squire Project Manager / Business Development at Ariom That being one of the differences between "them" and "us".
Like 5 minutes ago

Sean Walker Sales Director at Mediaplex And its Royal Marines

Like (4) Reply 58 minutes ago

Ashley Straw, Neil Chapman, William Cooper, +1

Sean Walker Sales Director at Mediaplex I agree with the last person, taking this and applying it to business is c**p. And as for the rest of my comments, as an ex soldier (Marine and Legionnaire) I have had to delete them.
Like (3) Reply 1 hour ago

Remi D., William Cooper, and Andrew Haslam

Justin Reed Porsche Sales, Gossett Motors As a former infantry Marine I can talk for days about this. I have been faced with many situations not unlike the above story. There are many ways that this particular instance could have turned out better and a perfect Royal Marines career record would not have been tarnished. There are so many aspects of modern warfare that is not brought to the modern day citizens knowledge. The wounded insurgent could have possessed vital Intel that had he been cared for and nursed back to health he may have freely given up. This Intel may have gone on to help save the lives of countless warriors conducting operations in that AOR. Of course there is always two sides of the coin... the insurgent may have been in very much pain and would have been screaming and dying in front of these troops. It is never fun nor is it enjoyable to watch a human who is in pain lose his life slowly. The common phrase that I have heard used is "Mercy kill" and while highly illegal, it was a sign of respect and compassion to do this in ancient battle. Citing a statistic from Dept of the Army: 90% of all deaths on the battle field, where from wounds sustained that would have caused the person to die anyways. This is not an excuse or a justification but simply a look at both sides of the coin. My final thought is this: Marines do not do that, but war is hell.
Like (3) Reply 38 minutes ago

Greg K., Mahmood R., and Gordon Grech

Steve Mattson Major Market Account Executive at Paycor What if that insurgent had booby trapped himself? It is a known tactic by our fanatical enemies. The entire untit could have been killed.
Like (2) Reply 56 minutes ago

Dave B. and Wil Allsopp



'Marines Don't Do That': Mastering The Split-Second Decision | LinkedIn

Ian Mackay Focusing on the next leadership opportunity in international Sales & Marketing Saw this, in foot high letters, outside a refinery in Australia; "Courage to Intervene, Character to Accept".
Like (2) Reply 1 hour ago

Anne Zinkiewicz and Anthony O'Reilly

Matt Gilbert Sales Director at BDNA Corporation Lazarus Long Beware your thoughts, they become your words. Beware your words, they become your actions. Beware your actions, they become your habits. Beware your habits, they become your character. Beware your character, it becomes your destiny.
Like (2) Reply(1) 1 hour ago

Anil Damodaran and Dane Gayle

1 Reply Jeff Coudayre Project Management / Forward Planning How do they say WHORAH !
Like 54 minutes ago

Owen James Recruitment Consultant at Bayley Needham Firstly, not to state the obvious here, but I think most serving or ex-serving members will agree: Just because information is on a PowerPoint slide, it doesn't mean it will be absorbed by the person viewing it. The wider idea of inculcating values is a more valuable point. We should 'know what right looks like' is used in places in the British Army, and I would go further to say that we should encourage people to ask questions about what it looks like, not just expect them to know. However, I tend to agree with William. I think this is a little insensitive, misleading and perhaps even naive to think that this scenario can translate into the business world. I know that sometimes military examples and clichs are used in the civilian and business world, but in this case you have a fairytale in comparison to the true understanding of the situation. Whilst I understand and commend your desire for people to learn life lessons, personally I having never been in the position that the Marine was in I would be careful about using this to make your point; there are better ones to use.
Like (2) Reply 47 minutes ago

Andrew Haslam and David Penhearow

Melissa Sulewski Partner Manager at A powerful reminder that personal responsibility is not only to ourselves but to our colleagues, peers, friends, and children. Even while away from the atrocities of war, the call of moral courage and doing the right thing in life remains.
Like (2) Reply 1 hour ago

Reid Rengel and Jacob Warwick



'Marines Don't Do That': Mastering The Split-Second Decision | LinkedIn

Danny Roach Senior Fire Officer at ADCO I have read the article, and if i am honest i am very disturbed that you would use the conviction of a "Royal Marines Commando" and that is the correct title. For the purposes of illustrating negotiation. I have the following points and questions. Firstly where did you get your information from? at no point during the recording did anyone say "marines dont do that" Secondly this incident occured following the enemy being shot by an Apache helicopters 30mm canon, after he had opened fire on them with an AK and grenades. I am not going to justify their actions but he would have certainly died of his injuries. Thirdly and while there is no real justification for killing in cold blood, the unit involved had lost to enemy fire, 6 other Royal Marines. Fourthly, the other Royal Marines involved were asked if anyone wanted to give first aid to the enemy which they did not. I do not condone what has happened as a former Royal Marine, i believe that they have let the Royal Marines down as well as themselves, however i find it abhorent that you are using it to demonstrate negotiating! The Sgt concerned had served the Royal Marines with distinction for some considerable time, his life and that of the his family are destroyed, for an act of war, and thats exactly what it was, in fact you could argue that it was actually compassionate given the severity of his likely injuries. Being shot with a 30mm canon wont do a lot for your figure! Perhaps you should balance your argument with how the Taliban treat NATO forces when they are injured, wounded, blown up, and calling for their mates to help them and how they negotiate? or failing that do not use incidents that you dont have a complete and full understanding of, and have no involvement with, given that you dont even live in the UK and therefore have no idea of the feeling surrounding this event. PO41077C
Like (2) Reply 42 minutes ago

Philip Squire and Andrew Haslam

Marion W. Real Estate Broker in Green & Renewable Advantages Powerful. My feelings exzctly
Like (1) Reply 1 hour ago

Skadi Winter

Gina Gerwig Investor Delivery Great article, very powerful and a reminder that in life it is not all about ourselves.
Like (1) Reply 1 hour ago

Cathy Nyseth

Wil Allsopp 2nd Principal Consultant at Verizon Business The US is in no position dictate ethics in battle. Shocking hypocrisy.
Like (1) Reply 59 minutes ago

Andrew Haslam

Mike Schepper Marketing Director at Transfac Capital The Geneva convention is politics that get in the way of war. I stood on a flight deck off the coast of the Philippines with 2 seal teams and a few of my marines waiting to pull a SAR mission for 51 hostages taken by a guerrilla group financed by Bin Laden. After the state department and politics cleared, a German couple had been executed to make a statement and we were told to stand down due to political red tape. I don't agree with the decision the marine made in this article, he could have medivac and detained, but I won't judge him either. Just my thoughts.
Like (1) Reply 49 minutes ago

Jenna Fullmer



'Marines Don't Do That': Mastering The Split-Second Decision | LinkedIn

Barak Fainaro K&K Division Manager at Yail Noa Group It is impossible to predict how you will act in such situations, even if you have been trained properly. in those circumstances, and those split seconds, everyone acts differently. I am not sure this can be applied to the business arena.
Like (1) Reply(1) 1 hour ago

William Cooper
1 Reply Jim Molchan Business Manager, Contract Manufacturing at Kellogg Company I think you kind of say it... Some people will not do the Right thing when they are faced with doing the easy thing or something that does not benefit themselves. In the moment, these people need their peers to step in because, no matter what kinds of Policy Training some receive from legal, no matter the Applicable Law, no matter the Corporate Mission Statement, Corporate Values, or standing orders they will act only in their own narrow interest.
Like 20 minutes ago

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