The power of no

Published: May 14 , 2015
Author: Stephen White

The recent Argentinian film ‘Wild Tales’ is a compilation of six unrelated fictions about people in desperate situations. I would recommend it to anyone who likes entertaining storytelling, but one of the segments has particular interest for negotiators.

The plot revolves around the wealthy father of a wayward teenager who takes the family BMW out for the night, gets drunk, and collides with a pregnant pedestrian in a hit-and-run incident. Mother and unborn child don’t survive. The teenager confesses to his parents, and the father together with the family lawyer hatch a plan. The gardener, a retainer of many years standing, is invited to take the rap by claiming to be the driver, and serve the prison sentence (expected to be an unrealistic 18 months) in return for $500,000, a sum beyond his dreams. 

The father is desperate to keep his son out prison, and this weakness is exploited as the parties begin to rack up the price. A million dollar bribe for the policeman who spots inconsistencies in the gardener’s story, half a million more for the family’s lawyer as a brokerage fee. Then the gardener demands a seaside apartment in addition to his pay-off, and the policeman wants some expenses on top of his. Both of these are obvious wish list items.

But the worm turns. At this last request the frustrated father says ‘No’ to the whole deal, withdraws all the offers and says he would rather let the son to go prison. His wife pleads, the lawyer threatens, but to no avail.

With one word the father has switched the balance of power. The lawyer come back, offering to withdraw the wish list demands. The father dismisses this, and proposes that the whole deal cost him no more than $1 million, shared between the parties as agreed amongst themselves. The lawyer pleads for more money, the father refuses, and the deal is done on his terms. There are at least two lessons from this story; firstly negotiators should learn how power can shift by their own actions – it is not a fixed given – and secondly Don’t Get Greedy!

If you are cursing me for spoiling the movie for you, I promise that there is a twist at the end of this segment, and also that the other five stories are also brilliantly entertaining.

Incidentally, the storyline has echoes of the 2008 Turkish movie Three Monkeys, which is also well worth watching.

Enjoy.

Stephen White


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