Of course, not everything in life is a negotiation. But when you spend a big chunk of your time observing negotiations, it can become habit to see dynamics from a certain perspective. And as it’s Halloween, it seems appropriate to understand how a negotiator might view some of the spookiest of films.
The Exorcist (1973)
Having recently moved to Washington DC to pursue her successful acting career, Chris becomes concerned at her daughter Regan’s increasingly erratic behaviour. Sensibly choosing a simple strategy in order to achieve her objectives, Chris brings in medical professionals to diagnose Regan. However, Regan is making a common negotiating error – she’s really not making herself clear. In fact she’s more or less impossible to follow – we really have no idea what it is that she wants. Deadlock ensues, leading a desperate Chris to follow a more complex (and therefore risky) strategy. Will the exorcism suggested by Father Karras work? Well without wanting to give away any spoilers, the seasoned negotiator spots that Karras may need to revisit his preparation in order to weigh up the cost of the concessions he’s prepared to make in order to achieve his objectives. However, it’s safe to say that precious little negotiating dialogue has occurred.
Our protagonist, Michael Myers, has been in a secure institution for 15 years. In what appears to be a recurring theme in horror, this springs from a determination to impose his will, rather than approaching conflict with the flexibility to trade towards any kind of deal. Escaping from the institution conveniently close to Halloween, Myers appears to have learned little about trying to listen to and understand other parties and exploit any flexibility to resolve conflict. Instead, he chooses to impose his will (again) via a murderous rampage. Little by way of negotiation is taking place here, but we’re seeing what happens when other parties who feel aggrieved by his imposition decide to take revenge. Myers’ own doctor shoots him – 6 times! – only to find that having fallen through an upstairs window, Myers has made good his escape. From a negotiator’s perspective, this festival of inflexibility isn’t much to write home about to be honest. I wonder if they made a follow up?
The crew of Nostromo – a commercial vessel in deep space – are awoken from their hypersleep by an apparent distress call. Upon investigating, the Executive Officer – Kane – is attacked by an alien which attaches itself to his face, charmingly. At this point things pick up from a negotiator’s perspective – finally, we have a credible, realistic proposal from Warrant Officer Ripley, who suggests to Science Office Ash that Kane should be left on the planetoid with the alien attached to him on the basis that it will avoid contamination – and possible danger – to the Nostromo and crew. Ash rejects this, imposing his will using his power as the senior officer, and brings Kane back to the Nostromo. Ripley’s logic, however, proves to be prescient as the alien attached to Kane proceeds to wreak havoc aboard the ship, killing all before it in a textbook demonstration of abusing superior power. Later on, the shocking revelation that Ash has been working under separate and secret orders to preserve the alien lifeform and return it to earth, with the Nostromo crew being expendable in this objective, shows us the perils of how other parties can hide agendas and information. As the film reaches its climax, sole survivor Ripley sets the Nostromo’s self-destruct sequence only to find that the alien’s strategy is flexible enough for it to adopt the option of joining her on the escape shuttle. However, we are reminded of the damage that imposing your will can do to long-term relationships as Ripley blasts the alien into deep space upon discovering it on the shuttle. Sometimes, negotiating can protect your longer-term interests by maintaining the relationship.