Law 39: Stir Up Waters to Catch Fish


Anger and emotion are strategically counterproductive. You must always stay calm and objective. But if you can make your enemies angry while staying calm yourself you gain a decided advantage. Put your enemies’ off-balance: Find the chink in their vanity through which you can rattle them and you hold the strings.

Seven problems with the Angry Response

1. At first it may strike fear and terror, but only in some, and as the days pass and the storm clears, other responses emerge.
2. Embarrassment and uneasiness about the shouter's capacity for going out of control.
3. Resentment festers of what has been said.
4. You always make unfair and exaggerated accusations.
5. A few such tirades and people are counting the days until you are gone.
6. To show your frustration is to show that you have lost your power to shape events.
7. It is the helpless action of the child who re-sorts to a hysterical fit to get his way

Never Let them See You Sweat
Tantrums neither intimidate nor inspire loyalty. They only create doubts and uneasiness about your power. Exposing your weakness, these stormy eruptions often herald a fall.

The essence of the Law: When the waters are still, your opponents have the time and space to plot actions that they will initiate and control. So stir the waters, force the fish to the surface, get them to act before they are ready and steal the initiative. The best way to do this is to play on uncontrollable emotions—pride, vanity, love, hate. Once the water is stirred up, the little fish cannot help but rise to the bait. The angrier they become, the less control they have, and finally they are caught in the whirlpool you have made, and they drown.

The Conundrum
· Angry people usually end up looking ridiculous, for their response seems out of proportion to what occasioned it.
· They have taken things too seriously, exaggerating the hurt or insult that has been done to them.
· They are so sensitive to slight that it becomes comical how much they take personally.
· More comical still is their belief that their outbursts signify power.
· The truth is the opposite: Petulance is not power, it is a sign of helplessness.
· People may temporarily be cowed by your tantrums, but in the end they lose respect for you.
· They also realize they can easily undermine a person with so little self-control.

The Answer
· Is not to repress your angry or emotional responses. For repression drains you of energy and pushes you into strange behavior.
· Instead, you have to change your perspective.
· We have to realize that nothing in the social realm, and in the game of power, is personal.
o Everyone is caught up in a chain of events that long predates the present moment.
o Our anger often stems from problems in our childhood, from the problems of our parents which stem from their own childhood, on and on.
o Our anger also has roots in the many interactions with others.
o The accumulated disappointments and heartaches that we have suffered.
o An individual will often appear as the instigator of our anger but it is much more complicated, goes far beyond what that individual did to us.
o If a person explodes with anger at you (and it seems out of proportion to what you did to them), you must remind yourself that it is not exclusively directed at you— do not be so vain.
o The cause is much larger, goes way back in time, involves dozens of prior hurts, and is actually not worth the bother to understand.
o Instead of seeing it as a personal grudge, look at the emotional outburst as a disguised power move, an attempt to control or punish you cloaked in the form of hurt feelings and anger.
· This shift of perspective will let you play the game of power with more clarity and energy.
· Instead of overreacting, and becoming ensnared in people's emotions, you will turn their loss of control to your advantage:
· You keep your head while they are losing theirs.

The Power
· Anger only cuts off our options and the powerful cannot thrive without options.
· Once you train yourself not to take matters personally, and to control your emotional responses, you will have placed yourself in a position of tremendous power:
· Now you can play with the emotional responses of other people.
· Stir the insecure into action by impugning their manhood, and by dangling the prospect of an easy victory before their faces.


When playing with people's emotions you have to be careful. Study the enemy beforehand: Some fish are best left at the bottom of the pond.

You can bait the powerful and get them to commit and divide their forces, but test the waters first. Find the gap in their strength. If there is no gap—if they are impossibly strong—you have nothing to gain and everything to lose by provoking them. Choose carefully whom you bait, and never stir up the sharks.

Finally there are times when a well-timed burst of anger can do you good, but your anger must be manufactured and under your control. Then you can determine exactly how and on whom it will fall. Never stir up reactions that will work against you in the long run. And use your thunder-bolts rarely, to make them the more intimidating and meaningful. Whether purposefully staged or not, if your outbursts come too often, they will lose their power.