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Negotiation Scenes in the “Erin Brockovich” Movie Essay (Movie Review)

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Updated: Jun 20th, 2020

Negotiations are crucial not only in the world of business and sales, but also in our everyday life. We may engage into negotiations several times a day trying to reach compromise in relationships with our family and friends, looking for the optimal solutions in various situations, and adjusting to collaboration at our workplaces. Being a skillful and sensitive negotiator is a very useful ability as it allows us to achieve goals faster, easier, and with more successful outcomes, and it also provides us with a capability to create harmonious relationships with the surrounding individuals. The process of negotiation is rather complex and consists of a variety of aspects such as preparing for negotiations, searching for value, shaping perceptions, orchestrating the structure, handling people, being persuasive, and fostering good agreements. The success of negotiation lies in each of these aspects and in the smallest details. This paper will explore the processes of successful and unsuccessful negotiations demonstrated in the movie “Erin Brockovich” where a small law firm confronts a large corporation called PG&E concerning water pollution that negatively affected lives and health of hundreds of people.

The first negotiation scene showed in the movie I would like to examine is the visit of PG&E’s lawyer, mister Foil to the law firm of Ed Masry where Brockovich works. The moment Foil appears on the screen, it becomes clear that his preparation for the negotiation is rather poor. He looks nervous and uncomfortable. Foil starts the process of negotiation naming the amount of money PG&E would be willing to pay to the plaintiffs for their home, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The offer is immediately declined by the opposing side, which makes Foil even more nervous and intimidated. He tries to apply value creation stating that the price PG&E offers to the family of plaintiffs for their home exceeds the actual cost of the land and property in their area (Erin Brockovich).

As soon as the opposition confronts Foil stating that the plaintiffs did not need to restore the cost of their home, but the cost of the medical bills occurring from their poor health inflicted by PG&E, Foil breaks down and says that the price he has offered was final. To shape the perceptions of their clients, Masry and Brockovich start to enumerate the diseases plaintiffs suffer from due to the harmful influences of the corporation. Foil runs out of arguments and admits that the offer he came with was fixed, which, technically, kills the nature of negotiation. Feeling that he lost the case, Foil tries to be persuasive and threatens his opponents stating that his client is a twenty eight billion dollar corporation, which only encourages the representatives of plaintiffs to ask for a bigger compensation.

The second negotiation scene showed in this movie includes more characters. Masry and Brockovich invite two of their colleagues to participate in a meeting with the group of counselors from PG&E. This time, the corporation offers a much larger sum of money, twenty million dollars. The counselor from PG&E starts the negotiation trying to be persuasive right away, she states that this amount of money is more than plaintiffs “could have ever dreamed of” (Erin Brockovich). In response, Erin Brockovich handles her opponent saying, “See? This pisses me off” (Erin Brockovich). This phrase is meant to throw the counselors off their game and ruin their inappropriate confidence.

Erin continues stating that the plaintiffs do not demand this compensation to become rich, but require it to be able to live relatively normal lives after their health and the health of their children has been destroyed by PG&E’s actions. Brockovich employs great tactic creating the value by using the members of the counseling group as examples. She asks them what kind of price they would be ready to pay for their internal organs such as a spine or a uterus. She also notes that her clients are multiple and twenty million dollars are worth nothing when divided between all of them. Finally, preparing for the negotiations, Masry and his colleagues bring in water affected by PG&E’s experiments and intoxicated with the same poisonous element that ruined the health of the hundreds of plaintiffs. This way, when one of the counselors, intimidated by Erin’s aggressive tone, reaches out for a glass of water, Brockovich reveals where the water really came from, which makes her opponent put down the glass and leave the room together with her party.

Satisficing and excessive optimising are the behaviours that are most likely to negatively affect the success of negotiations. Satisficing occurs when one of the negotiating parties agrees to accept satisfactory offer too soon losing possible profits and benefits. Satisficing is also known as “winner’s curse” which stands for settling for too little. Excessive optimising is the opposite pattern, which appears when the negotiator is too firm and would not agree to compromise unless the best result possible is offered. Based on the information collected by Erin during her personal investigation, Masry and Brockovich become absolutely convinced that all of the health issues of their plaintiffs are the outcomes of the harmful waste discharged by PG&E into the ground waters. This gives the lawyers absolute advantage and eliminates the risk of satisficing, as the negotiators are extremely confident. During the second negotiation scene described in this paper Erin demonstrates her exceptional confidence aggressively suggesting her opponents to put a price on their organs and then multiply it by a hundred.

This way, Brockovich demonstrates excessive optimising, but she is not afraid to lose the case as she has evidences she unearthed herself. This kind of behaviour is rather risky in cases when there are not enough bulletproof evidences or advantages to provide the negotiators with a chance to ask for amounts of compensation that significantly exceed the sums offered by the opposition. The counselors of PG&E demonstrated a walking away from the table behaviour, which is normally considered a negotiation mistake, yet in this case, the behaviour served as a sign of acceptance of the opponents’ advantage. In the first case, the negotiator from PG&E, Foil arrives at Masry’s firm with a fixed sum of money he was authorised to offer and makes a mistake of admitting it in front of his opponents. Negotiations are not based on fixed sums of money; on the contrary, they are discussions of suitable optimal conditions for both sides. Masry and Brockovich turned out to be better negotiators in both of the situations. Their advantage was not based on intuition. The lawyers were absolutely sure that they were winning the case because of the research and data collection conducted by Erin.

The two situations from the movie called “Erin Brockovich” demonstrate the obvious success of Masry’s law firm. The small firm represented by a few people engages into a confrontation with a large and powerful corporation and wins due to a variety of proofs of PG&E’s harmful impacts on the ecology of a geographical area populated by people. The evidences that confirmed PG&E’s actions were the chemical analyses of water in the area, the corporation’s documents reporting that they were discharging highly toxic waste into ground waters, and the behaviours of PG&E representatives trying to hide their crimes. Emotional side of negotiations and the ability to intimidate the powerful rival were the main keys to Masry and Erin’s success. They remained strong under pressure and resisted the threats from PG&E. They also cleverly attacked and used highly powerful arguments such as plaintiffs’ motivation, the cost of their treatments, and the number of affected people.

Brockovich was especially successful when she made the opponents imagine that they were the victims of the situation, and even provided them with an opportunity to get affected by the toxic waste from a sip of polluted water. Ineffective negotiation behaviours were demonstrated by Foil and the counselors when they utterly revealed their frustration and nervousness adding to the confidence of their opponents. During the negotiations PG&E chose the tactic of intimidation knowing that they go against a very small law firm, yet when they realised that the opponents could not be thrown off their game by threats, their confidence turned out to have no significant basis, whereas Brockovich and Masry had a large collection of scientific, medical, logical, and statistic proofs of their position and the position of the plaintiffs.

Works Cited

Erin Brockovich. Dir. Steven Soderbergh. Perf. Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart. Universal Pictures, 2000. Film.

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