Breaking Down Billions S02’s Negotiation and Communication Scenes

Episode 01: Risk Management


Dake and Chuck First Meeting

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat)
  • Description: Chuck shows great grace under fire. Dake is intimidating him, showing presence, but Chuck is very nonchalant, as if he has nothing to hide. This can work, but a bit too cavalier. He should seem not worried, but serious, to show professionalism. Oh well;
    • I also like how Dake appeared unannounced, which a mechanism to rattle the other person. It doesn’t work in this case, but it’s generally a good technique, to induce a mistake in the other person;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Presence (Dake);
    • Grace Under Fire (Chuck);
    • Abundance/Non-Neediness (Chuck);
    • Physiological Priming (Distraction by Dake – catching Chuck off-guard);


Axe’s Presentation

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: Great motivational speech. Multiple things of note here. Starts
  • Techniques Present:
    • Metaphors/Comparisons (Dinosaur extinction analogy);
    • Adverse Transparency (We deserve it due to what we have done);
    • Rigidity (Forcing all conversations through his chief of staff);


Mafee and Taylor

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat)
  • Description: So Mafee makes many correct guesses here, as to Taylor being highly efficient, being woke, and so on. However, he gave up too quickly. I would try and find out what are Taylor’s motivations, to try and offer something to entice them;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Empathy (Mafee guessing Taylor’s vegan, guessing they want to leave, etc);


Chuck asking DiGiulio a favor

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat)
  • Description: So, again Chuck has already done DiGiulio a favor, and he is now asking for something in return for that favor. This is just being transactional, but since he’s asking for a second favor in exchange for just doing one, it’s being a little pushy. No techniques here, just being transactional;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Reciprocity (although Chuck is abusing it a little);

Episode 02: Dead Cat Bounce


Dake intimidating Wendy

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably)
  • Description: So Dake is using his usual intimidation tactics. He has a unique style of putting pressure on others, being very logical but inquisitorial at the same time. I like how, when Wendy says that the $5M bonus is usual in her world, he mentions “what a rarefied world you live in”, trying to exclude her, make her seem different, weird, to try and trip her up. However, as Wendy says herself, his tactics are basic, and he has nothing big to go on, so he can’t really trip her up;
    • You can also notice, however, that Dake knows what he is doing, and in the specific case where Wendy hesitates, which is when she replies about whether she thinks Chuck was really recused or not, he immediately picks up on that. So at least he is attentive to body language and discomfort;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Comfort/Congruency (Lack of, in Wendy’s case, when asked about Chuck’s recusal);


Dr. Gus session with Ben

  • Is It Realistic: Very (Reasonable)
  • Description: So, in general, Dr. Gus’s approach is pretty intense, and it’s questionable whether we should take macho alpha bros and add gas to the flame. But in the specific case of Ben Kim, that suffers from being very shy and being in his comfort zone, this intense approach can actually work;
    • You can also notice Dr. Gus’s credibility and authenticity here. Ben Kim says he’s not comfortable with his language, and Dr. Gus says he doesn’t care. He’s here to make him better, not be polite;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Credibility/Authenticity (Cursing situation);


Chuck giving GoodStop to the AG

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: Chuck is trying to give the AG her enemy’s head on a spike in return for keeping his current job. Although we find out later that this isn’t enough, it’s a good tactic. He is railroading the AG’s enemy, and also tying himself to the process, being needed to bring it home. Although it didn’t work in this case, it was the best play possible;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Reciprocity (Doing a favor in order to elicit reciprocity in the other side);

Episode 03: Optimal Play


Taylor being convinced to play in the Alpha Cup

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably)
  • Description: I like how Axe is non-confrontational and polite here. He’s pretending to guess information that he already knows, and Taylor detects this, but it does not cause a negative effect. And he asks “May I convince you to play one more time?”. He’s not being very persistent, just enough. Really liked it;
    • … and in a successive scene, Axe calls Taylor and forces them to play. OK, so he undid all the good things I complimented him on before. But this can also be an effective approach. Try and play nice. If it’s enough, you look good. If not, you force the person. Can work;
    • The Dr. Gus scene is also good. Realistic. He’s making the playing question about Taylor’s identity, and due to this, forcing them to make a clear choice. Very smart. Perceived Contrast at its best. Make something binary, and the choice is easier;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Flattery (Axe with Taylor. “I bet you were one of those multi-table prodigies);
    • Perceived Contrast (Dr. Gus with Taylor);

Episode 04: The Oath


Axe and Bach

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably)
  • Description: OK, so he’s saying something sensationalised here. “If you take no out of the equation, yes is the only thing remaining”. I mean, he does make sense, but I don’t necessarily agree with him. If you take away the no, the person can still hesitate. But OK, it’s a fair point. It’s similar to starting with the negative – if you can’t prove something is bad, it’s positive by association. Contrast. It can work, but Axe says it in a very dramatic manner;
    • Also, this scene becomes less realistic considering what Axe does next, planting a photo op for the Giving Oath. So if the no is his legal troubles, instead of taking away the no, by quitting the legal case, instead he’s just trying to do something to look good again. So, using has analogy, he is not taking away the no, just giving them another yes. Ignored his own advice. Bah;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Starting with the Negative/Contrast;


Chuck with Bryan setting up the Boyd meeting

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: What Chuck is saying makes sense. Good to see good persuasion, finally. Asking for a favor serves as flattery, makes the other person feel valued, and you can use escalation of commitment – after asking for a favor, you can escalate the ask. But more than that, what Chuck is after here – and this is well played – is to lower Boyd’s guard, to then deliver a real punch;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Flattery;
    • Escalation of Commitment;
    • Vulnerability;


Ira deposing Axe

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably)
  • Description: So, I like what Chuck and Ira are doing here, trying to shake Axe and put him in a defensive position. Although they are not that well-coordinated, it still works, and they throw Axe off his game;
    • Also, notice the shift in defensiveness here. First, Chuck is aggressive because he has Ira and they think they have a winning strategy, so you can see how he feels confident, entitled, and ready to unbalance Axe. But when Axe gets the call he lost the football team, now he’s enraged, and he’s the one on the attack, ready to unbalance Chuck, and Ira even notices this and asks to not go back on the record. You can see how the “most dangerous” person is the one that puts the other side on the defensive;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Pressure/Intimidation;
    • Defensiveness;

Episode 05: Currency


Axe meeting with the other managers

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably)
  • Description: Axe uses displayed authority – gets Lawrence Boyd to ask the others for him. He also uses his vulnerability here. They know he’s weak, and that he needs this deal, but that is precisely why he leverages this as an opportunity for all of them to win;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Displayed Authority;
    • Adverse Transparency;

Episode 06: Indian Four


Wendy negotiating her return with Axe

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: As Axe says himself in the beginning, she chooses an unusual place and makes him come to her. Although she’s only doing this because her daughter has a lesson, it does work as two different persuasion weapons. Distraction and the home advantage;
    • I like when she says, “I’m not sure my mind is changed”. Showing reluctance to gain power;
    • I also like how she establishes credibility here, by being fair. Axe respected her boundary and she says that she is coming due to this. She’s establishing herself as someone fair who knows contract;
    • Unexpected rigidity in the end. Him dropping the civil suits against Chuck;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Distraction (making Axe distracted with a weird meeting place);
    • The home advantage (making Axe come to her);
    • Credibility and reciprocity (She coming to Axe after him respecting her);
    • Unexpected rigidity (“One last thing”);


Axe lying to Lara

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: Exactly as Lara notices, he’s not asking for her opinion. It’s a done deal and he’s trying to get, ex post, her validation for something he’s already done. Pretty realistic and arrogant, and her reaction is extremely believable too;
  • Techniques Present:
    • TBD;


Axe negotiating with Hank Flagg

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: OK, so this is a brilliant negotiationg between both. I love the succession of techniques that Axe uses here, albeit a bit arrogant and condescending. He starts with empathy, common ground, complimenting his bikes. OK. But then, after Flagg already claims he knows about the casino (or that at least, something big is going down), Axe tries to harp on about not being able to go higher, or getting the government to force him out if it takes too long (trying to impose artificial scarcity);
    • I also love how Flagg reverses it, using the information he has to say that Axe is the one that needs to move fast, and has a lot to lose. He turns the artificial scarcity and the deadline on him, plus uses illustrating the loss. Excellent combination;
    • Another thing that I love here is a small detail – how Flagg refuses the offer politely. Instead of saying “no”, he says, “I would be happy with $7M”. Excellent way to say “no” politely, straight out of the Chris Voss playbook;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Empathy/Common ground;
    • Deadline/Artificial scarcity;
    • Illustrating loss;


Dake pressuring Lonnie

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: OK, so Dake’s style here is intimidating with facts and logic. The usual. But one thing that I love is him using implementation intention here. So when Lonnie admits that he knows that he believed Chuck did not really recuse himself, he literally says, “I will need more. Specifics”. Excellent usage;
    • I mean, technically, it’s not implementation intention, it’s not about “how will you do this”, but it’s about “what you already have done”. Still, same exact principle here. The more specifics, the more convincing and persuading the testimony becomes;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Implementation intention;

Episode 07: Victory Lap


Chuck trying to convince DiGiulio to accept the clerk

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: So, this negotiation failed miserably, and Chuck did not get what he wanted, but I do not think it was due to his reasons. DiGiulio says that he is tired of the favors, and he doesn’t do them anymore, but I do not think that is the case. I think that the reality is that Chuck only did DiGiulio a favor, and this is the third favor he tries to ask in return. So Chuck is clearly pushing it here. A lot. I would have tried to do something for him before this, such as bringing him a good case, but here we are;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Reciprocity (Badly used – Chuck trying to get 3 favors for one);

Episode 08: The Kingmaker


Chuck Sr. and Jr. discussing Foley

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: So, this is extremely realistic. I love how Chuck is fighting against the restraints. Foley did, in fact, want him to submit. To make him kiss the ring. And Chuck rejected that so it’s not the initial framing in the relationship. Equal terms, not a subordinate position. Both of these very realistic from both sides. Then, the clash of realities is also realistic. Foley being in a reality where he supports the next candidate from the shadows, using favors and tricks, and Chuck defending a meritocratic reality that is about achievements. Both very different, and both in clash here. Very very interesting situation in terms of power dynamics and frame battles;
    • I love how this is also what happens when Chuck talks with Bob Sweeney. He insists that his numbers and name recognition will make it, and Sweeney insists that name recognition doesn’t mean anything and that Foley’s favors will pull him through. It’s a second clash of these two realities;
    • I also love how, near the end of the episode, when Chuck is talking to Foley after destroying Sweeney, Foley gives his blessing, but he still tells Chuck he has to ask for him to make him governor. He makes him say it. Home advantage;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Anchoring (Foley wanted the initial power dynamic to be Chuck serving him);
    • Home advantage (Chuck coming to Foley, to his house, to his way of doing things, etc);
    • Frame battles (Chuck Jr. with his reality of meritocracy versus Chuck Sr. with his reality of favors);


Axe versus the scrap dealer

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably)
  • Description: OK, so here we see Axe negotiating with higher and higher numbers, negotiating against himself, while the scrap dealer refuses all the proposals. But he does get him to give up information on why he is scared of Foley, and that is valuable to him. Still, the technique of just upping the offer when the other side is dead scared won’t really work. Would be more effective to find dirt on Foley, a chink in the armor, and use this information to weaken his allies. But oh well;
    • I also find it hilarious that, in the end, Axe says that he would have taken 1 Billion. Just to prove that he could be bought. It’s proof that he is so stubborn, that he needs to insist that just offering money would work;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Dominant personality type (Quick, fast negotiations reducing everything to numbers);

Episode 09: Sic Transit Imperium


Chuck’s tactics described by Foley

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: All of these are spot on, as described by Foley. Feeling the people’s pain creates empathy and makes him likeable as a politician – in this case, even more so because he has been publicly against Axe since what I assume is years ago in the show’s timeline, so it’s not just empathy, it’s authentic empathy – nobody can accuse him of faking it – and he is also not pandering to the reporters or being public about it, which makes them chase even harder, and consider it more special if they do catch him and get a quote. Both solid techniques;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Empathy (Chuck feeling the pain of the people);
    • Secrecy/Mystique, and Artificial Scarcity (Chuck not being available to the reporters);

Episode 10: With or Without You


Wendy speaking with Lara

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: The specific part where Lara mentions that Axe goes to Wendy for every problem is very interesting, as it’s a textbook case of permission manipulation. In this case, by Axe himself on himself. He can’t consider something fixed unless Wendy is involved. He has to “check the box” through her. And therefore, he can’t fix it himself. Lara is 100% correct in this situation;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Permission Manipulation (Since axe defers to Wendy for the decisions, he considers her necessary. He can’t check the box and move on until she helps him);


Bryan trying to convince Taylor

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat)
  • Description: I love how Taylor used the meeting as a pretense of providing information, but was actually scouting for what Bryan had, which matches the character’s intelligence and strategy;
    • In terms of Bryan’s techniques, they were sloppy. He assumed that Taylor was a good person, and that they would convince Taylor due to that. Sure. But he could have used something. Showed pictures from previous cases, how Axe’s trading hurt people, something concrete. But as Taylor says, and very well, he tried… cookies. Even seems out of character for Bryan to be so stupid;
  • Techniques Present:
    • TBD;

Episode 11: Golden Frog Time


Chuck making Dake AG reveal

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably)
  • Description: Naturally, at the climax of the season, with this brilliant twist, I want to examine Chuck’s making Dake AG in specific. You can notice how he probably leveraged the US AG to appoint him – so, he probably cashed in on an additional favor after asking her to let him keep his job – and now he has Dake in his hand as well. As we see in Season 3, he’s going to demand a lot from him in return for the appointment;
    • There are some elements here which may be realistic or not. For example, I’m not sure the US AG would be happy to hear from Chuck after he threatened to put her close friend Boyd in jail and twisted her arm. Would she still do this favor? Possibly;
    • Also, a very realistic part here is that Dake does not play along with Chuck initially. He does his job regardless of who recommended him and refuses Chuck’s favor. Only when he knows he will be put in a position to look like an idiot because he can’t get Axe later will he capitulate, reflecting this principles. Masterfully done and shows the consistent writing of this character;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Reciprocity (Chuck doing Dake a favor expecting one – or many – in return later);
    • Association (If Dake is made AG through Chuck’s corruption, he’s now in it and is associated with it, so he can’t go against him);

Episode 12: Ball In Hand


Chuck vs. Minchak

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably)
  • Description: So, Minchak is angry here at Chuck, naturally, because he’s making moves that he did not tell her about. And, as she said very well, she needs to know everything in order to protect him. Chuck reassures her by declaring he will extract the affidavit, so the whole deal is kept hidden. No big techniques here. The only thing that would satisfy Minchak is Chuck telling her this is a non-issue, and he guarantees that with the document;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Intent labeling (Minchak is forcing Chuck to get something that guarantees he stays out of it, in this case a written document);


Chuck negotiating with Sacker

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: I love Chuck’s use of contrast here. You see how he asks for one last chance (give me 24h), and he says, “If you’re still not happy then, I will be the one to recommend you leave”. He’s pre-empting her leaving, and using contrast to his favor. In a way, this contrast works as a trust mechanism. As in, “I trust myself so much that, if I can’t do this, then I will be the first one to admit it”. It’s also a type of adverse transparency;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Contrast (Him going from wanting to really keep her to be the one to really recommend her to leave if she isn’t happy);
    • Pre-empting (Chuck knowing she wants to leave and offering to recommend her if she’s not happy – getting ahead of the situation instead of it happening to him);
    • Adverse transparency (Chuck telling Sacker he will recommend her and help her leave if she’s not happy after this period);


Bach negotiating with Dake

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: This negotiation is crucial, and it’s probably one that could have shaped Season 3 in a radically different way. So what we have here is Dake refusing to let Axe be arrested on his terms. Being inflexible and rigid. Just like he was with Chuck, telling him he would do him no favors. But this is a cautionary tale of why rigidity without having options backfires beautifully;
    • If Dake had had some leniency, and let Axe surrender on his terms, he would not lose Axe, no need to go back to Chuck, especially in desperation, and he would not need to do Chuck all the favors he needed to. In other words, the whole of Season 3 where Dake becomes entangled in Chuck’s corruption, and Chuck ends up actually saving Axe from prosecution to save himself, could have literally not have happened, and Dake could just have done whatever he wanted;
    • This is extremely realistic, because it’s in character. We see Dake as this righteous, pious, strict figure that makes no concessions for anyone. And just like Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, because he refuses to play the game, he ends up eliminated from the game. This is an excellent cautionary tale of why excess rigidity can backfire;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Rigidity (Dake being too rigid, making no concessions, either for Axe or for Chuck, and this being exactly his downfall);


Dake capitulating to Chuck

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very)
  • Description: We see that Dake only agrees to play along with Chuck and loop him in after he has no other chance, which is consistent with his character. There’s no big negotiation technique here, except Chuck being great at reading Dake and knowing what he would do – and also knowing Axe, himself. Great strategic thinking here;
  • Techniques Present:
    • TBD;

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