Articles

Written by Professor Barney Jordaan

Mario Puzo's award-winning book The Godfather contains some very useful advice for negotiators (I would invite you, for the moment, to look beyond the fact that his main character and source of negotiation wisdom, Don Vito Corleone, was a mafioso). Here are some of my favourites (all quotes taken from the iBooks version of The Godfatherby Mario Puzo):

  1. On keeping your cool in the face of the other party's bad behaviour

"Hagen [the Don's lawyer - the Don was also his only client] had learned the art of negotiation from the Don himself. 'Never get angry,' the Don had instructed. 'Never make a threat. Reason with people.' The word 'reason' sounded so much better in Italian, ragione, to rejoin. The art of this was to ignore all insults, all threats; to turn the other cheek. Hagen had seen the Don sit at a negotiating table for eight hours, swallowing insults, trying to persuade a notorious and megalomaniac strong-arm man to mend his ways. At the end of the eight hours Don Corleone had thrown up his hands in a helpless gesture and said to the other men at the table, 'But no one can reason with this fellow,' and had stalked out of the meeting room.

2. On making sure your team is organised and don't openly display internal dissent at the table

If theres one thing the old man hammered into me its never to do a thing like that, to let other people know theres a split of opinion in the Family.(Michael, the younger son)

3. On not allowing emotion to trump reason

In response to a statement by the older, violence-prone son, Sonny that: The Tattaglia Family is going to be wiped out. I dont care if we all go down together,

Michael said: Thats not how Pop would have played it.... The Don considered a use of threats "the most foolish kind of exposure; the unleashing of anger without forethought as the most dangerous indulgence. No one had ever heard the Don utter a naked threat, no one had ever seen him in an uncontrollable rage. It was unthinkable. And so he tried to teach Sonny his own disciplines. He claimed that there was no greater natural advantage in life than having an enemy overestimate your faults, unless it was to have a friend underestimate your virtues.

4. About not engaging in power plays unnecessarily

Sonny, sure you can outfight him. The Corleone Family has the power. You have Clemenza and Tessio here and they can muster a thousand men if it comes to an all-out war. But at the end there will be a shambles over the whole East Coast and all the other families will blame the Corleones. Well make a lot of enemies. And thats something your father never believed in.

5. On not taking no for an answer

Don Tommasino, you know my father. Hes a man who goes deaf when somebody says the word no to him. And he doesnt get his hearing back until they answer him with a yes.

6. On helping others save face

So youve taught me everything else. Tell me how to say no to people in a way theyll like.(Michael) The Don moved to sit behind the big desk. You cannot say noto the people you love, not often. Thats the secret. And then when you do, it has to sound like a yes.Or you have to make them say no.You have to take time and trouble.

7. On not acting on the spur of the moment: being reflective not instead of reflexive

Revenge is a dish that tastes best when it's served cold.

8 Finally, on how difficult it can be to separate the people from the problem

Its all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But its personal as hell.(Michael)