How much can you learn about negotiation by sitting on the couch watching movies? Plenty.
Want to become a better negotiator? You could diligently read up on the subject or attend some negotiation training courses, but for the couch potatoes amongst us, you might just learn more by watching some of your favourite films.
Negotiation scenes come in many varieties in film. Often they’re in the form of a hard sell (think Leonardo DiCaprio selling dodgy stocks in The Wolf of Wall Street), or a hostage situation (Tom Hanks negotiating for his freedom in Captain Phillips) or other life-threatening situations such as Mel Gibson trying to talk a suicidal man down from a ledge in Lethal Weapon.
But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of haggling, the following five scenes give illuminating examples of how to win – or lose – in a high-stakes negotiation.
- Sticking to your final offer – Nightcrawler (2014)
Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Lou is trying to sell a video of a crime scene to Nina, a TV news manager. Watch for:
- Lou being willing to haggle down to a certain level, after which he refuses to budge.
- The power shift in the negotiation from Nina to Lou (aided in part by Lou’s creepy intensity).
- Lou throwing in a number of extra conditions when he knows he has Nina beaten.
- Best line: “When I say that a particular number is my lowest price, that’s my lowest price, and you can be assured that I arrived at whatever that number is very carefully.”
- Doing your homework before a negotiation: True Grit (2010)
In this Coen Brothers film, 14-year-old Mattie Ross (played by Hailee Steinfeld) shows what horse-trading is all about – literally. In order to raise money to hire a Deputy U.S. Marshal to help her track down her father’s killer, she approaches an auctioneer named Stonehill with two demands – that he buys back the ponies he sold he father, and that he pays her $300 for a horse stolen from his stable. At first, Stonehill laughs in dismissal, but Ross’s perseverance and detailed knowledge of the relevant law wears him down until he yields to her demands – plus a little bit more. Watch for:
- The moment Stonehill mentions the valuation of the horse and hence kicks off the haggling process.
- Mattie’s threatening to walk out on the negotiation and go to the law, causing Stonehill to adjust his offer in panic.
- Best line: “I do not entertain hypotheticals – the world as it is is vexing enough.”
- Negotiating across cultures – Snatch (2000)
Warning: strong language.
When boxing promoter “Turkish” and his partner Tommy approach Irish Traveller “One Punch” Mickey O’Neil to ask him to participate in a fight, the prospect seems simple enough. The only problem is, Mickey (played by Brad Pitt) has an almost unintelligible accent. His price is the purchase of a fancy caravan “for me Ma”, and then proceeds to list off all the features he wants included in the deal … while Turkish and Tommy can’t understand a thing. Watch for:
- Mickey’s impossible-to-understand list of caravan features. The video clip below includes subtitles, but cinema audiences had no such assistance when this film was released.
- The bewilderment on Turkish and Tommy’s faces as they realise they don’t know what they’ve actually agreed to. The cultural barrier between the Irish Travellers and the other characters in the film is a running theme that goes far beyond the tricky accent.
- Best line: “Did you understand a single word of what he just said?”
- Coercion – Ocean’s 11 (2001)
“Frank”, played by the late Bernie Mac, has been tasked with sourcing the transport needed for the team to undertake the crime of the century. The dealer names his best offer, and Frank appears to accept. So far, everything seems to be going smoothly … until the handshake. Frank extends the grip to a full 60 seconds, apparently crushing the car dealer’s hand while chatting amiably the whole time. The car dealer, desperately uncomfortable and in pain, abruptly drops his price before freeing his hand. Watch for:
- The range of emotions playing over the car dealer’s face as he realises he can’t free his hand.
- Frank’s feigned surprise and gratitude when the dealer drops his price.
- Best line: “If you were willing to pay cash, I’d be willing to drop that down to seven-SIX-teen each.”
- The power of silence: 30 Rock (TV series 2006-13)
By simply sitting in near-silence and looking stern, grumpy babysitter (Sherri) is able to make Jack Donaghy so nervous that he doubles her pay for working half the time. Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) comes into the negotiation with his usual swagger, but Sherri’s silence causes him to blabber and rapidly cave. Appalled at his own performance, he confronts Sherri a second time. Watch for:
- Sherri’s tactical silence when Jack pauses to let her speak.
- Jack rolling his eyes when he realises how badly he came out of the negotiation.
- Best line: “I made every mistake you can in a negotiation. I spoke first, I smiled … I negotiated with myself!”
Want to suggest some other films or TV shows with great negotiation scenes? Leave a comment below!