August 2015 Bar Bulletin
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August 2015 Bar Bulletin

"Firefly" - Mal Reynolds and the Art of Negotiation

By Kyler Danielson


Negotiation is a fine art. While practice is helpful, many lessons can be learned from watching the masters. Malcolm Reynolds ("Mal") and his crew, on the television series "Firefly," are such masters. "Firefly" was a 2002–2003 Joss Whedon, western-themed production set in space, and it provides a plethora of negotiation strategies that can be effectively applied to your legal practice.1

"Firefly" is centered on Serenity, a spaceship traveling in 2517, and its rebellious crew. Mal, the owner and captain of Serenity, is the future equivalent of a confederate officer after the civil war. The space system is governed by an authoritarian regime, called the Alliance.

All of the characters function on the edge of the law, but they also follow a strong, unspoken code of ethics. Despite occasional theft and smuggling, Mal steadfastly honors his deals while he remains loyal to his crew and consistently negotiates his way to safety. Mal and his crew are successful negotiators, even though they are often at odds with each other and always at odds with the authorities.

Approach Negotiations with Confidence

Negotiation is inherently adversarial. If you let your guard down, the opposing party can use your weakness to their advantage. Work from a position of apparent - if not actual - strength. Confidence can convey legitimacy and worthiness.

Developing confidence can be difficult, especially if you are nervous about the impending negotiation. Prepare for negotiations by considering the factors at issue, the interests of all parties to the negotiation, and what you consider to be a reasonable outcome. This preparation will provide you with a level of confidence and esteem to substantiate your arguments.

Avoid taking things personally by focusing on the objective aspects of the negotiation. Ideally, all parties will walk away from the negotiation in a better position than they were in when they started. Assert your interests with confidence and do not concern yourself with the potential of failure. If the other party did not want to negotiate, then they would not be speaking with you in the first place.

In Episode 8, "Out of Gas," Mal negotiates with Inara, a high-society courtesan, for the rental of his shuttle. During this negotiation, Inara says that Mal should lease the shuttle to her for one-quarter less than his asking price. She explains that Mal will benefit from having her on the ship because she will add an element of respectability. Her confidence and self-esteem in the negotiation allow Inara to rent the ship for significantly less than the asking price.

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