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Is it Ever OK to Use Trickery?

gene hackmanRecently I was looking for a short anecdote about negotiating to share with one of my online classes. The online classroom does require a different approach than when you are standing in front of a group of people. I like to keep in touch by sending short messages that are interesting (hopefully) and on topic to help keep us all connected.

I found such a message on Ancedotage.com; here is the story:

Hackman’s Moustache 

When Gene Hackman was cast to play Lex Luthor in Superman (in 1978), he agreed to wear a fake bald head cap, but refused to get rid of his bushy moustache. Dick Donner, the film’s director, was not amused. Luthor, he complained, was supposed to be clean-shaven. “That,” Hackman retorted, “is your problem!”

In a desperate bid to persuade him to shave, Donner visited Hackman in makeup one day and offered him a modest proposal: If he would get rid of his treasured moustache, Donner himself would follow suit — right then and there.

Eventually, Hackman agreed and was soon clean-shaven — whereupon Donner plucked from his face… a fake moustache!

[After a moment of incredulous anger, Hackman joined Donner in a round of laughter.]

It is a good story. Rumor has it that some actors are difficult. Is it a story of fairness? Does it correctly represent Principled Negotiations? No and no. Did it get the job done? Yes. Using a false position of compromise the film director got what he wanted. He wanted the character of Lex Luthor without a moustache.

This one little trick solved a problem for Dick Donner. What stories do you have? When have you tricked someone into doing things your way?

There are a few more important questions raised by this story, questions such as:

* When is it acceptable to resort to trickery to get what you want? 

A popular answer is “When I know my way is the right way.” Or “When I know I am not causing anyone harm.” Granted Gene Hackman probably did not suffer physically when he shaved off his moustache. Per the story he did have some brief emotional distress which surfaced in the form of anger. Presumably he went on to live a full and happy life. How do you know that your way is the right way? How do you know that you are not causing anyone harm?

* Have you ever resorted to trickery to get what you wanted? 

I can’t write this and pretend to be perfect. I completely see the temptation for Dick Donner in his role of director. I can see that his approach was meant to end the arguments over the moustache and resolve the conflict about it in a somewhat peaceful manner. I know that there have been times when I have presented a team member with a choice between two approaches, knowing full well which approach they would select and that it really was not a choice. Of course this could have backfired on me and it would have served me right if it had. In the situation with Gene Hackman and Dick Donner, what if Gene Hackman had said, “You shave your moustache off first?”

* Has anyone ever used trickery on you to get what they wanted?

When trickery has been used on you and how did it make you feel? Did you get angry and then laugh? I suspect that when someone has tricked you into doing something that you did not want to do, that you may not have loved it. Hopefully you have recovered from being upset about it. You probably still remember the situation and you might not completely recover your trust. I can think of two different people who used trickery on a regular basis with me (and probably with others too) and I can tell you I do not willingly spend time with either of these people.

When is it acceptable to use trickery? I think we each have to make our own decisions here. Just be aware of the impact of your decision or you might just trick yourself out of some good working relationships!

 

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