Negotiation Blog

Film Award for Best Negotiating Practices

By Thomas Wood

The lead up to the Academy Awards always gets me excited about seeing great films. This year Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" and Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist” were fabulous, and received 10 and 11 nominations respectively. But will they win at the 2012 Academy Awards? I hope it's not deja vu of the 2011 Academy Awards, when brothers’ Ethan and Joel Coen’s “True Grit” received 10 nominations but didn’t win. Well, True Grit definitely won Best Picture for Negotiating Practices among our team of professional negotiators here at Watershed Associates.
True Grit tested the “grit” of every character’s negotiation moxy in the various negotiations that transpired in this movie, and there were many.
 
The story is tried and true:  Teenage girl seeks revenge on her father’s killer, and pairs up with two strong willed lawmen-for-hire to chase down the killer in Indian territory of the 1880s. There’s an opening scene with Dakin Matthews playing a tough and crotchety old businessman and trader, Colonel Stonehill, and Hailee Steinfeld playing the vengeful teen, Mattie Ross. As Mattie prepares to set out on her adventure, she needs resources, and she comes to the trader to negotiate for them.
 
Before he died, Mattie’s father had purchased and paid for two ponies from the trader. Her father had paid for the ponies, but the ponies had not yet been delivered to him and are still in the custody of the trader. Mattie’s father also had his saddle horse boarded at the trader’s stable. Along came a thief who, upon murdering Mattie’s father, stole her father's saddle horse, and left behind the saddle, the two ponies, and the less valuable horse Mattie's father had lent the theif.
 
When Mattie approaches the trader, her astute preparation becomes apparent. The trader is quick witted from years of experience (and a great script), but has to determine whether Mattie has a strong BATNA (plan B), or is bluffing. Mattie uses just enough friendliness and legitimacy to her advantage, while also showing she is prepared and goal oriented (a picture perfect example of Watershed’s mantra: be firm, fair and professional). The trader is caught off guard by this shrewd teenager, and to his disadvantage underestimates her negotiation skill and determination.
 
There are lots of negoiation missteps, mostly on the part of the experienced trader. There are things the trader could have learned about Mattie’s need for resources if he wasn’t caught off guard and had asked better questions. Simply by using sincere curiosity and probing more effectively, the trader could have landed a much better deal. He focuses only on dollars instead, missing low cost/high value trades he probably could have made with the girl. He also makes other common erros in his haste, such as
  • responding to her offer in a way that makes it difficult to explore Mattie's interests,
  • negotiating against himself without waiting for a counteroffer when faced with Mattie’s various BATNAs/bluffs, and
  • declaring multiple times that this is his final offer.
And yet, the trader held all the cards from the start. At the opening of the negotiation, Mattie has nothing and the trader has everything – the ponies, the payment, the saddle, the less valuable horse, and the expertise. Mattie doesn’t beg or play the victim who needs charity. She uses many Best Negotiating Practices, among them
  • an assertive but defensible opening offer,
  • legitimacy,
  • persuasive analogies,
  • a strong BATNA, and
  • a tapered concession pattern.

Mattie has almost no power in this negotiation, but she leverages something much more potent – her skill as a negotiator – her true grit.

And that’s only one of many negotiating scenes in the Oscar nominated movie from 2010.
 
See True Grit again or for the first time, and test your “grit” as a negotiator by spotting all the missteps and Best Negotiating Practices interlaced in this great film.

 

Negotiating Tip

A weak partner is a dangerous partner. At minimum, find ways for all parties at the negotiating table to save face. 


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