None of them involves a gun either.

Learning how to negotiate is equal parts science and art.

The good news is that it can be learned. And my guess is that if your teacher was Samuel L. Jackson you’d remember every @#$%*&^! lesson.

I’ve put together five lessons from Mr. Jackson’s on-screen appearances and his real life to illustrate some great points about how to negotiate.

Fair warning as you go through this post; we’re drawing from the colorful work of Samuel L. Jackson to illustrate these concepts…

You Gotta Give Somethin’ to get Somethin’

A person who protects everything gains nothing. If you want to learn how to negotiate better, you’re going to have to learn how to make targeted concessions.

It’s rare that you’ll get through a negotiation without giving something up. The trick is in knowing what you want to get in return when you do give up that special something.

Making concessions isn’t something that you do on the fly though. Concessions should be a set of calculated moves designed to get you to your goal. Sometimes they’re meant to be distractions or to box your counterpart in.

You box your counterpart in by defining their choices and their thinking with your concessions. The science lies is calculating your concessions ahead of time. The art is that occasionally you might want to make a concession that’s a little misleading with regard to your actual goal.

The point Jackson was driving with his young protégé is that you need to think many moves ahead and it’s okay to give something up on your way to victory. Chess and negotiating are the same in this concept. Just like in chess, if you walk into a negotiation shooting from the hip, you’re going to lose your head.

Concessions are a key part of every negotiation game plan. Learning how to negotiate means you’re going to have to develop a game plan and you’re going to have to give up some things along the way. If you’re not happy with the results you’ve been getting, ask yourself this; ask yourself when is the last time you put real forethought into your concessions before a negotiation.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

You know that feeling you get when someone says something to you and you’re not sure why, but for some reason you just don’t believe them?

There’s a better than average chance that while they’ve said one thing, their body said something completely different and your spidey sense picked up on the contradiction.

Nonverbal communication is the most critical part of communication. In fact, according to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, 55% of communication comes from things like facial expressions, physical gestures, posture, and things like that.

That’s over half!

Dr. Mehrabian’s work suggests that 93% of communication is non-verbal. To put it another way, what comes out of your mouth is only 7% of the message. Makes you wonder why you even bother talking doesn’t it…

The really cool thing is that for you to start using this tool you don’t need to remember an infinite number of clues. This post by Drake Baer with a nod to Max Nisen covers 17 different clues that you can learn pretty quickly…

I thought the tenth one was so cool that I’ll cover it here because the research was conducted by videotaping 2,000 negotiations and comparing the results.

In their research Gerard I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero found that there was no chance of negotiators reaching an agreement when either one of the two had their legs crossed. Do you know how valuable that little nugget is!?

Most of us see crossed legs and we think the person is relaxed and settled in. The reality is that they’re closed off physically, emotionally, and mentally. Given that many negotiating tactics are emotional in nature and that the legs make up a large chunk of real estate on a person’s body, if someone’s legs are crossed that’s a huge clue that not even your best tactic is making it through to them!

If you want to learn how to negotiate better, become a student of body language. This is a skill where just a little bit of knowledge can go a long way.

What can you do!?

I’ll admit this clip is a pretty extreme situation. Hopefully you never have to learn how to negotiate anything this serious, but it does emphasize a point. In business negotiations you need to master the art of talking about what you can do for your counterpart.

Being able to redirect a conversation and point your counterpart toward what you can do for them keeps them interested and engaged. The feeling of progress and momentum is very important. If your counterpart starts hearing you say “no” too much you could start to lose them. If you spend too much time talking about no, don’t, can’t, and won’t, your counterpart is going to wonder if you’re serious about getting a deal done. They’ll wonder if you came prepared…

So how do you redirect the conversation without saying no, don’t, can’t, or won’t?

Here’s a simple 5 step approach:

First, stay present and thoughtful so that you’re making the right decisions. Often times in a negotiation your counterpart may make an extreme ask. If you get distracted by it and let your thoughts wander or allow yourself to be emotionally affected you’re likely to make poor decisions.

Second, consciously manage your response. Two important pieces to this are that you should not interrupt your counterpart and when they are done speaking you should not be driven to prove your position is the best position. Rather than speaking, one option is to not to speak at all. You might be surprised at what that will do for you.

Third, acknowledge their request and dig deeper into it. This is important because it lets your counterpart know that you’re paying attention. You could say something like, “That sound important. Why do you need it done that way?”

You want your counterpart to open up. You don’t want to accept their request at face value. If you’re going to give something up, then at least get something in return. At a minimum, get some information.

Fourth, let your counterpart know where you’re trying to go. “I want to understand what you’re looking for so I can figure out how to make that work for both of us.”

Fifth, redirect your counterpart by making an alternate suggestion. This is where you fold in some version of the concession(s) that you previously decided you were willing to make when you built your gameplan.

…and you’ve not used the words no, don’t, can’t, or won’t.

And that brings us to Mr. Jackson’s next lesson…

Even Nick Fury has a Champion

If you’re a Marvel fan or a Samuel L. Jackson fan then chances are you’ve followed some of the negotiations that the two have had over his role in the Avengers franchise.

Jackson has never hidden the difficulties he and Marvel have had during their contract negotiations. And on occasion he’s commented publicly on the negotiations.

Numerous articles were written back in 2009 during the initial negotiation when talks weren’t going well even after Jackson had been used as the model to create the prototype black Nick Fury. Both parties were obviously interested and invested, but discussions were stalled.

Recently Jackson has been commenting publicly on the fact that he only has two films left on his nine film contract and that there’s really been no discussion of a Nick Fury feature. In his comments about the remainder of his contract he’s kept his remarks positive and mentioned that he would like to extend the contract.

Why speak publicly about the negotiations? What’s he trying to accomplish?

Well, I think we can all agree that Jackson presents as a fellow who speaks his mind whether he’s in character or not. So I chalk part of his reasoning up to him just being honest about what’s going on.

And he’s achieving something else…

He’s mobilizing his fans; his Champions. I have no doubt that many of Jackson’s fans have let Marvel know how much they want to continue to see him as Nick Fury.

There are two important concepts you need to pick up on when observing how Jackson has handled himself when letting his fans know how talks are going.

First, if you’re going to engage a champion to move a negotiation in your favor then you had better be able to execute and deliver. Given the fact that Jackson has been in the top two for lifetime gross film revenues for the past five or six years, we know he can deliver the goods. This means that his fans, his Champions, aren’t risking anything when they lobby Marvel on his behalf.

Second, ask softly. Remember, your champion is sticking their neck out for you and you need their help. So be respectful and polite. Engaging a champion is a subtle tactic. It’s not a sledgehammer. You don’t hear Jackson relentlessly lobbying his fans to call up Marvel and demand a contract extension.

Ask for the Purple Light Saber

Do you know why Mace Windu has a purple light saber?

Because purple is Samuel L. Jackson’s favorite color.


We’ve all heard about some of the wild things that actors and entertainers ask for when they negotiate concert or movie deals. You should be willing to ask for things that you think are on the fringe of the deal. And do it with a straight face.

Would it have made any difference to the audience if his light saber had been green or blue? Maybe, maybe not. But it was important to Jackson.

You know what else Jackson gets in his movie deals.?.?.?

Two days a week on a golf course.


If that means the production company has buy him a country club membership then that’s what it means.

These might seem like frivolous requests, but they’re important to Jackson and so he asks for them.

When you make your list of everything you want out of a deal it should include everything you want. You just might get it.

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