Top 5 Negotiation Films
When learning a new skill, it’s essential that you consolidate your learning by observing (and eventually applying) it in real-world contexts. This is true of negotiation, too! Beyond the classroom, watching one of our top five negotiation films can be a useful and entertaining tool. From the comfort of your sofa, it can help clarify your understanding and inspire new ways to apply strategies through the lens of various “real-life” scenarios.
Filmed in 1972 by Francis Ford Coppola, this three-time Oscar award-winning film tells the story of a Mafia patriarch passing control of his criminal empire to his youngest son. Best known for its iconic dialogue, we can all recall Don Vito Corleone’s famous line, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Usually, we wouldn’t recommend basing your negotiation style on the Mafia’s bloody tactics and illegal strategies. However, The Godfather presents some excellent teachable moments that all negotiators could learn from and, therefore, is the exception to our rule.
Negotiation Lessons from The Godfather
- Don Vito Corleone doesn’t beat around the bush; just like him, be assertive about what you want from the negotiation and confident about your offer.
- Come prepared with an offer that “they can’t refuse” because you’ve considered both your and their needs, wants and motivations.
- Make the first offer because it puts you in a position of power. Don Vito Corleone knows that being upfront with the other party means their counter-offer has to revolve around yours.
- Stand your ground on your non-negotiables. Don Vito Corleone knows what he wants and goes for it finding creative solutions to his problems.
Snatch tells the story of boxing promoter “Turkish” and his partner Tommy as they become unwittingly embroiled in the hunt for a priceless stolen diamond. Featuring a star-studded cast boasting the likes of Brad Pitt and Jason Statham, Guy Ritchie's comedic timing and interconnected plot line based in the British criminal underworld features multiple negotiation examples.
However, in this instance, we will be focusing on a scene between Mickey (a boxer and Irish traveller) and Turkish as they negotiate the price of a new caravan for Mickey’s Mum.
Negotiation Lessons from Snatch
- Research and prepare to overcome cultural barriers to negotiation. In the scene, Turkish and Tommy struggle to understand Mickey’s accent and cultural differences, ultimately allowing them to be taken advantage of.
- Know the goals, motivations and needs of the opposite party. If Turkish and Tommy had done their research, they’d have been able to counter-offer a more mutually beneficial deal.
A Coen brother’s adaptation of the Charles Portis novel by the same name, in this gritty Western, Mattie Ross joins forces with U.S. Marshal Reuben J “Rooster” Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf to hunt down her father’s murderer.
Along the way, the 14-year-old Mattie enters a negotiation with a horse trader. In a scene that exemplifies the importance of preparation and the strategies to use when negotiating with a more powerful party, she has two demands:
- He buys back the two horses he sold (but never delivered) to her father before his death.
- He pays her $300 for her father’s horse that someone stole from the horse trader’s stable.
Negotiation Lessons from True Grit
- Make the first offer. Mattie’s opening offer is realistic and fair, ensuring that the negotiation now revolves around her wants, needs and motivations.
- Be assertive and persuasive. Mattie says what she means and means what she says. Even though she is younger and less experienced than the horse trader, her demeanour and confidence throw him off kilter and help her derail his argument.
- Preparation is the key to success. Mattie’s argument is well-thought and rehearsed, unlike the surprised horse traders. She knows the ins and outs of market trading and the law, which she then uses to her advantage.
- Have a strong BATNA. Mattie has already decided on her ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement) and therefore has been able to prepare her best alternatives to help her secure the outcome she needs.
- Know when to walk away. When the horse trader refuses to compromise or make any concessions, Mattie decides to walk (and threatens to tell the law about his trading practices). Ignoring the threat, however, it’s essential to know ahead of any negotiation the point at which you’ll have to leave the table, also known as your walk-away point.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler is about a petty thief turned freelance crime scene photographer looking to earn money by selling his images to L.A journalists. As a part of his new position, his character, Lou Reed, has to negotiate prices with TV stations and newspapers. In one scene, he encounters Nina, a TV news manager, who refuses his initial offer. However, Lou perseveres undeterred and eventually persuades Nina to accept his high-value deal.
Negotiation Lessons from Nightcrawler
- Know your value. In this scene, Lou Reed believes wholeheartedly in the product he sells and demonstrates its value to Nina. As a result, he is able to be incredibly persuasive and eventually secure himself a deal that includes more benefits than his initial offer.
- Stand firm when you need to. Whilst it isn’t always appropriate to be completely inflexible, it’s important that you can identify when the other party is not paying an appropriate fee for your service or product and that you continue to focus on your goal. In this scene, Lou Reed knows Nina’s offer is unacceptable, especially for an exclusive photograph, and his determination to be paid appropriately pushes him to stand his ground.
Our final top negotiation film to watch is Jerry Maguire starring Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr, which tells the story of a fired sports agent tasked with rebuilding the waning career of his one and only client, Rod Tidwell, a has-been American Football player.
In the critical negotiation scene, Rod is extremely transparent about his goal to Jerry by saying, “Show me the money!”. He is aware that as Jerry’s only client, he has leverage, and if Jerry can help him secure a major well-paid contract, he’ll help him by staying on his books and restarting his sports agent career.
Negotiation Lessons from Jerry Maguire
- Arm yourself with leverage. Rod’s clarity of purpose and understanding of his value meant that when negotiating with Jerry, he had the leverage to secure himself an excellent deal. He knew that they both had something the other wanted and used that to his advantage. Ultimately, this allowed Rod to obtain a four $11.2 million contract in the film.