Don't Kill Your Bargaining Partner

Advice from Walt Disney’s lawyer

Former Executive Vice-President and General Counsel to The Walt Disney Company, entertainment law heavy-weight Lou Meisinger (now retired Judge Meisinger) knows more about driving a hard bargain than anyone I know.

Yet it is Lou who taught me that the deal you drive too hard is the one that will come back to bite you.


Because you have to leave enough profit in it for your negotiating partner to survive.

Lou told me that his company once drove so hard a bargain that it nearly killed its bargaining partner. Unable to perform and survive, Disney’s contractor sought concessions that were less favorable to Disney than originally offered. Had the stronger party been content with the deal that kept its negotiation partner healthy, it would not have had to take a worse deal months later.

You have to leave them "face" as well.

You protest that Lou's wisdom doesn't apply to a one-time deal. Maybe. But your career is a long game and it's a small world.

A fair agreement is a durable agreement.

Hard bargainers love to quote Machiavelli's The Prince on the benefits of being more feared than loved.

However, most people forget -- or never read -- his final words on the subject:

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their {family]. *

So, in addition to refraining from killing our business partners, there is great wisdom in letting the last dime go in favor of a mutually beneficial deal. I spent a quarter century of my work life litigating and trying disputes over the terms of agreements that weren’t stable. Trust me. A good relationship is worth its weight in gold.

Don’t under value yourself but once you know how to negotiate a great deal for yourself, remember that you’ll have to live with the fallout from that deal for months, years or decades. Be strong and thoughtful. You’ll be glad you were.

*substituted “family” for “women”

Victoria PynchonComment