The Top Negotiation Tip From the #1 Trial Attorney in LA


“Is it better to be liked or respected at work?”  This was the question posed in an article aimed at women I came across last November.

This is tantamount to asking the same question for negotiation.Work, if not life itself, is pretty much an uninterrupted series of negotiations.  The conclusion of the piece was that respect was more important and “likeability” should be sacrificed if there was any question.  Au contraire (or as we would say in middle-America – Wrong!)

Tom Girardi was as a guest speaker last spring in the Negotiation and Deal-Making course I teach in the MBA program at the University of Southern California.  

I had been introduced to him by my good friend and mentor, Michael Levine (a formidable and respected Hollywood publicist).  Before he introduced me to Tom, Michael said “I’m going to introduce you to the most important guy in this room” and there were some real heavyweights there, including a former governor of California.

Tom has the reputation of being the top trial attorney in California, which puts him in the running for top trial attorney in the US. He happens to be an incredibly generous guy as well. “Attorney At Law” magazine has described him as a brutally tough lawyer as well as straight-forward and calm”.

Tom gained his reputation for a number of victories including the famed Erin Brokovich case (Julia Roberts starred in the movie) and the case against the Los Angeles Dodgers for the fan that was beaten in the parking lot at one of their games. Interesting enough, for all his impressive accomplishments, Tom is probably gaining more pop culture fame for being the husband of Erika Jayne, one of the current stars of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”. Who knew, right?

When Tom showed up to speak at my class, I didn’t really know what to expect given his reputation.  Having spent quite a bit of time myself on the prosecution side of a number of trials in New York City I imagined Tom might be an attack dog.

The first words out of Tom’s mouth to my class were:

“The key to negotiations is being nice and gentle.”


And he said this with one of the nicest, least threatening demeanors I ever saw.  He exuded likeability. He could probably have “out-niced” any Macy’s Santa Claus on the whole planet.  This is one of the many tools he uses to give himself a tremendous edge.  And it’s the first tool he uses.

If the word “yes” is desired, you’re in a negotiation.  If you want someone to do something or take a course of action, you’re in a negotiation. And the most dangerous negotiation is the one you don’t know you’re in.  This is clearly a philosophy Tom Girardi lives by and succeeds by.  It makes no sense to trigger defensiveness.

People are 6x more likely to make a deal with someone they like. You have no control over whether you’re liked, yet you have complete control over whether or not you’re likeable. Not only can you be likeable and be respected at the same time, it’s actually essential for getting good deals.

If have you a need to be liked, then you’ve just taken yourself hostage, based on your need.  Again, you don’t need to be liked to in fact be likeable.

There’s one major easy step to being incredibly likeable (followed by two more solid Black Swan Group skills):

1 – Exude a “liking” for them, no matter what.  

This is incredibly potent and very difficult for them to overcome. Let it shine out in your eyes, your voice, and your body language. Tom is a master at this.If you hit a contentious counterpart hard three times with a smiling and warm voice you can just watch the hostility melt away.  It’s kind of fun to watch them fight it off the first time, have trouble throwing it off the second time, and then just give into it and come around the third time.  You’ll find yourself feeling very powerful and good about it all at once.

The great fringe benefit here for you both is that there is data that tells us that people’s minds work about 31% more effectively in a positive frame of mind.  Since they “like” you more, they will be more apt to work with you to help you find a better outcome.

2 – Mirror them.  

Not in body language and tone of voice because if you mimic the body language and tone of voice of an angry person you just aggravate the provocation. Use The Black Swan Group’s “mirror” negotiation skill.  A “mirror” in this context is repeating the last 1-3 words, or critical 1-3 words that it would be good for you if they expanded on, with an upward, “questioning” inflection.

3 – Label them.

Follow their response with a label highlighting any barriers. A label is “It seems like…” or “It sounds like…” or “It look likes…”


Them – “What you’re asking can’t be done.”

You – “Can’t be done?”

Them – “Well… I’ve just never seen it done.”

You – “It sounds like there are some possibilities here, it’s just that you feel they’re out of your reach?”

The last point here is crucial as no one likes for circumstances to make him or her powerless.  If there’s anything they can do here, they’ll offer it up.

What you’ve also just done here is respect them, thereby activating the universal human dynamic of reciprocity and triggering their respect in return.  Showing respect creates an environment of respect.  Don’t fear being the first mover here.

To sum up:

Be likeable.

Demonstrate respect.

Make it rain.

Rock it like Tom Girardi!


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