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George P. Shultz On The Danger Of Empty Threats
Building Trust and Credibility

“Sometimes small events have a major impact on your thinking. I remember boot camp and the day my Marine Corps drill sergeant handed me my rifle. ‘This is your best friend,’ he said. ‘Take good care of it and remember: never point this rifle at anybody unless you’re willing to pull the trigger.’

“The lesson—no empty threats—was one I have never forgotten. Its relevance to the conduct of diplomacy is obvious, yet often ignored. If you say something is unacceptable but you are unwilling to impose consequences when it happens, your words will lose their meaning and you will lose credibility. But the lesson is also broader, as in any deal-making. If you are known as someone who delivers on promises, then you are trusted and can be dealt with. As my friend Bryce Harlow often said, ‘Trust is the coin of the realm.’”

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