Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Deal, and Why We're Watching It

Yesterday evening we started to talk about empathy; putting ourselves in other people's shoes and seeing things from different perspectives. Later in the course we're going to study active listening. These twin skills (empathy and active listening) are important in the three activities that form the subject matter of our course, namely interviewing, counseling, and negotiation. Let's keep that in mind as we watch The Deal.

I am not going to over-sell this feature of the course. Films are no substitute for reality, and watching is an essentially passive experience. But so long as we reflect on what we're seeing, they can supplement our readings and role-play exercises. So here are a few suggestions.

Let's keep an eye on Gordon Brown's body language and Tony Blair's facial expressions. The director and the actors (Morrissey and Sheen) are telling us something important about the characters through their gestures, posture, and the way they inhabit space. They are also sending us signals about strength and weakness, candor and duplicity, loyalty and betrayal. But (and here's the challenge) what signals, exactly?

Our course is, in large part, about influencing other people's conduct. With that in mind, let's also pay attention to Peter Mandelson. What persuades him to switch teams? Is it solely his conversation with Blair in the House of Commons, or the conversation in combination with other factors? And, if so, what other factors?

Finally, after you've seen the movie and had some time to mull it over, I'd like to you to let me know what lessons you would use it to illustrate, or what questions you would hope it might prompt in the minds of law students. In other words, I'm asking you to put yourself in my shoes and think about The Deal from the perspective of an LP professor. Please post your answers on the blog.


  1. I think the movie illustrates that two people can have totally different conceptions of or reactions to the same situation. Brown thought Blair made a deal not to challenge him for the leadership and thought the deal was still valid years later. What Blair thought at the moment he spoke to Brown is unclear, but years later, Blair did not think the "agreement" was binding or valid. Granted, this is something that we've all known for years - the same sentence can mean two totally different things to different people. I think this is important from the LP perspective because as attorneys, we have to keep in mind what our clients and other parties believe we are saying to make sure that there is as little miscommunication as possible.

  2. The one thing that I would show students would be how Blair defused such a volatile situation. It was nothing short of masterful. While Brown's emotions came flying out from the get go, Blair stayed calm and was able to deescalate the situation, without showing weakness and without giving up what he wanted.