How to negotiate, or not

Special to The Times

"The argument from intimidation is a confession of intellectual impotence."
--Ayn Rand, "The Virtue of Selfishness"

One major correction from last week: I wrote that my wife is a news junkie who loves the haranguing and name-calling that pass for news coverage on Fox and MSNBC. My sainted aunt! What could I have been thinking? The poor woman has been inundated with panicked calls from friends and family ever since that shoddy remark hit print. Leslie is a fierce Democrat, and seeing herself tar-brushed as a Fox News viewer -- by her husband, no less -- I mean, I may as well have written that she'd stopped recycling. Or that she'd given it some thought, and maybe we didn't look hard enough for those weapons of mass destruction. Honey, I'm sorry. I don't like the hotel. Can I come home now?

Speaking of WMD, here's a definition from the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) dictionary:

Negatiation (ni-gay-shee-ey-shuhn) -- noun

1. mutual discussion and arrangement of the terms of a transaction or agreement featuring, by the design of one side, a complete lack of discussion or arrangement.

Would you like to learn how to negatiate? Just follow these simple steps:


This takes us back to the aforementioned WMD. George Bush pinned a whole war on them. They've never been found and many people believe they never existed, but that hasn't stopped Mr. Bush from holding his twisted little truth as self-evident. Some people would call this delusional. I call it darned good negatiating!


Say you're ready to come to the table and talk. (Say it in a press release. That way you won't have to actually talk.) Let's suppose the Writers Guild of America says, "Our main concerns are increasing our percentage from DVD sales and putting together a payment structure for Internet and new media." What should you say? Nothing -- and for as long as possible! When you're finally forced to the table, blame the writers for not getting you there sooner, then tell them (again, in a press release, if possible) you're ready to talk, you're willing to talk, and you want nothing more than to come to an agreement -- as long as nobody mentions DVD sales and new media. As long as those are on the table, you're not talking -- and boy, do you wish you could!


If you're negatiating correctly, absolutely nothing's getting done. Great job! However, many people will blame you for the lack of progress. (Just because you can't fool them all -- don't stop trying!) Your response? Pin it on the guys across the table! The WGA members take a strike vote? That's unprofessional! They refuse to drop the issues that are most important to their membership and the future of their guild? That's pig-headed and destructive! Remember though -- it's always better if these remarks come from unnamed sources. That way, when you see how idiotic they look in print, you can almost forget you were the one who said them.


Let's take that last Sunday night of negatiations, for example. For weeks the AMPTP was saying, "Take DVD off the table and we'll talk." Finally (and painfully), off the record, the WGA took DVD off the table. At last -- there could be some forward movement on the Internet and new media, not to mention other important issues! The AMPTP members went off for several hours and talked among themselves, then returned to the table with (wait for it) -- nothing! Nothing about Internet downloads, nothing about new media -- nothing about anything of any real importance.

Do you think the WGA negotiators were exasperated by that point? Sure they were -- only they didn't have a chance to show it because the AMPTP negatiators beat them to it! One of those negatiators, I was told, exploded in a display of mock exasperation so over the top that it was picked up on radar all the way across the country at the Maryland Academy of the Melodramatic Arts. Well done, sir! There'll be a little something extra in your pay envelope at the end of the week.

Enough negatiation. Let's start talking. For real this time.

Peter Tolan writes, produces, directs and co-created "Rescue Me." His television writing credits include "Murphy Brown" and "The Larry Sanders Show," and his feature film credits include "Analyze This," "Bedazzled," "Just Like Heaven" and "Finding Amanda," the last of which he also directed.

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