Breaking Down The Wolf of Wall Street’s Negotiation and Communication Scenes


Stratton Oakmont ad

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • So, the movie starts with a good combination. We see the image and appearance in the way they are dressed, the polite narrator of the ad, and them actually mentioning the values “stability, integrity, pride”. In the world of finance, image is half of it, and they are playing to the stereotype brilliantly;
    • I also like how it’s contrasted to how raw and less classy the reality is, which is also common in the finance world;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Image/appearance + characteristics (The advertisement playing to what the investors wanted);


Belfort describing his life

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • So, here we see a good example of costly signaling. That is, there is a lot of adverse stuff going on, but Belfort doesn’t care. The agencies are after him, he just risked his life almost crashing the helicopter, but he doesn’t care. This communicates abundance and value – you are open to all of these negative things because you believe they won’t affect you;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Costly signaling + value (Belfort doing a lot of things that are against him, because he doesn’t care);


Hanna telling everyone to start calling

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • So, we see a great example of characteristics here. How this specific company (or the whole finance world) is extremely aggressive, and how that pulls in people who are looking for that aggression and adrenaline, which is who Belfort precisely is;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Characteristics (The intensity of the job attracting Belfort by having the precise characteristics he’s looking for);


Belfort and Hanna having lunch

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • So, in the specific case where Hanna is talking about the clients not redeeming their profits, but reinvesting them, it’s permission manipulation. He’s not giving them permission to redeem, but only permission to reinvest. It’s also escalation of commitment – once they’ve invested in one idea, they find another idea for him to invest in;
    • We also see Hanna communicating value by being carefree. He doesn’t care about the clients, he’s not defensive and talks about masturbation openly, he hums and beats his chest, and doesn’t care all. We can see how he considers himself to be invincible. There’s also contextual power due to the fact he’s Belfort’s boss, naturally, and due to the fact he’s bringing him to his restaurant;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Permission manipulation + escalation of commitment (Getting the client to invest in more and more ideas, and not giving them permission to redeem);
    • Abundance/value (Hanna not being defensive about anything, not measuring his words, being carefree);
    • Contextual power (Hanna being Belfort’s boss and taking him to lunch at his usual place);


Belfort and his wife speaking

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • When she says, “You’re not going to be a stock boy, because you’re a stock broker”, it’s an identity contradiction. She’s simply saying it’s not who he is;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Identity contradictions (Belfort’s wife telling him he’s not a stock boy anymore);


Belfort making his first call

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • OK, see we see image and appearance here. We can see how he’s more sophisticated than everyone else, using refined words (and even in the way he’s dressed). Naturally, that is going to seem much more convincing. It’s also salience, because none of other penny stock sellers behave like that, and therefore he stands out;
    • We also see a beautiful stack here:
      • So, first, he talks about the potential. “Your investment could go up to 60.000”. It could also go to zero, but what matters is the potential. It’s what persuades;
      • Then, adverse transparency. He’s being open about having losers, and saying they are few, and saying he wants to be precisely judged for his losers. Sharing something negative he didn’t need to. In this case, it’s decoy transparency, because it’s not even real, but you see the effect is the same;
      • Finally, he mentions the secretary will be in touch, which is displayed authority (someone else doing work for him), and thanks him for the vote of confidence (gratitude helps consolidate the action and ask for more later);
    • We also see a great example of paradox intention. The person is expecting a problem, so he says, “The only problem you will have is that you didn’t buy more”;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Image/appearance + salience (Belfort dressing the part, speaking in a refined manner, and standing out from everyone else);
    • Potential (Belfort talking about how high the investment can go);
    • Adverse transparency (Decoy transparency about having losers, although few);


Belfort and his team having dinner

  • Is It Realistic: Hmmmm;
  • Description:
    • So, it’s pretty funny that we see a social contradiction here. That is, Belfort says that everyone wants to make money, and then Sea Otter says, “Well, not everyone”. Monks, specific craftsmen, and others don’t. And then Belfort naturally says, “I’m talking about working-class, everyday people”. It’s a very funny example of a great technique, but used for a very minor topic;
    • Then, when Brad sells the pen, it’s very funny. He literally points out that he’s missing a pen in order to sell him one. As he says, basic supply and demand. I would call it contextual power instead. That is, you wait until the person is in an unfavourable position to then sell them what they need;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Social contradictions (Sea Otter contradicting Belfort on “everyone wants to make money);
    • Contextual power (Brad selling the pen to Belfort by pointing out he doesn’t have one);


Belfort and his wife by the pier

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • So, we see something interesting here. Belfort’s wife is trying to remove his exits. She’s saying, “Wouldn’t you feel good by selling that to people who could afford it?”. Trying to make him doubt himself. But he cuts her off by saying it’s not possible, because those are too smart. You can see that even when he says it’s not possible, she asks, “Why not?”, being persistent;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Removing exits (Belfort’s wife on him);


Belfort reinventing the company

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • We see some very interesting techniques here. Excellent stack, and well-combined;
    • First, naturally, image and appearance. Looking refined, trustworthy, established;
    • Then, we see some interesting metaphors. Such as the clients being the whales, and them being Captain Ahab, or the company being so solid that their founders were part of the first American colonisers. Great motivational quotes;
    • Then, we see escalation of commitment here. As Belfort says, first they give them the trustworthy, solid, blue-chip stocks, and once they’re hooked, then they dump everything else;
    • We also see tension here, when Belfort says, “You wait, and the first who speaks loses”. True. The person who speaks first is the one who loses power, and who needs the other side the most;
    • We also see something which is not an UP Answer, but is very close to one, in how they reply to the objection. They don’t trust them. So they first talk about the potential, “If I put you in at 30 and took you out at 40, would you not be happy?” (or later saying, “This company is the future of airlines”), and then using adverse transparency, by saying, “Yes, you don’t know me, and don’t trust me, but let me tell you who I am”. Great combination, and makes use of these two techniques in a great manner. Also, naming and labeling manipulation when they say, “I’m senior VP of Stratton Oakmont”. The title seems to make them really important, despite the fact that, in reality, they are just salespeople callers;
    • Then, paradox intention again, with that quote. “The only problem you’re going to have is that you didn’t buy more”;
    • And finally, we see abundance and grace under fire here. Notice that people don’t just freak out with failures, sometimes they freak out with successes, and when the client decides he wants a lot of the stock, while everyone else is laughing or celebrating, Belfort is simply saying, logically, “Excellent choice. Let me pencil that in”. Matter-of-fact tonality;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Image and appearance (The company’s appearance, image, and their demeanor );
    • Metaphors (Captain Ahab fishing the whales, and Stratton Oakmont as being founded by the colonisers);
    • Escalation of commitment (Blue chip sales first to hook them, then the bad sales);
    • Tension (Whoever speaks first, loses);
    • UP answer (Belfort mentioning their potential and tackling the uncertainty);
    • Labeling manipulation (Attributing to themselves the “senior VP” title to seem more professional);
    • Paradox intention (Belfort converting the problem they will have to the biggest strength);
    • Abundance + grace under fire + tonality (Belfort being rational and logical in the face of success);


The piece on Belfort

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably);
  • Description:
    • I like the metaphor here, of the Robin Hood who steals from the rich to give to the poor. In a way, it’s exactly what they are doing, and it’s very illustrative. The “Wolf of Wall Street” is also an interesting metaphor to make him seem cold and calculating;
    • I like how his wife says, “At least your hair looks good”, trying to see the silver lining. Perceived contrast – it could be worse!
    • His wife’s final comment is also true, to an extent, that there is no bad publicity. And this is a great case of filtering by characteristics. That is, if the company is framed as taking money from the rich and putting it into their pockets, anyone who is looking for that will be immediately attracted, and see that in the scene after where there’s dozens of applicants;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Metaphors (The metaphors the journalist uses to sell Belfort as a thief);
    • Perceived contrast (His wife making it seem things could be worse, or that they’re not bad);
    • Characteristics (The image presented of Belfort in public is not necessarily bad – it will attract similar people and repel different ones);


Belfort’s dad storming in

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • So, we see a great example of how tension and intimidation don’t work if the other side is not affected. In this case, Belfort’s dad is as intense as can be, but because they all believe they are rich and invincible, nobody is actually afraid of him, despite his demeanor;
    • We also see a mixture of intent labeling and implementation intention here. On one hand, Belfort’s dad wants them to state explicitly what they’re doing, such as, “Tell me about this dinner, $30.000”, but on the other hand he’s also asking about the details, “What was it about the dinner that cost this much?”. They are vague and avoid his attempts, but they are good attempts;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Tension and intimidation (Failing, by Belfort’s dad);
    • Intent labeling (Belfort’s dad getting them to state what they’re spending on);
    • Implementation intention (Belfort’s dad asking about how they are expensing this);


Belfort playing beer pong

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • We see a great example of contrast and salience with the IPO thing. That is, Belfort says they’re not considered legitimate yet, or big enough, because they haven’t done an IPO yet. So that’s the plan. The lack of an IPO makes them stand out (in a bad manner), and they contrast with the other companies (also in a bad manner);
  • Techniques Present:
    • Contrast + salience (Doing the IPO to stop seeming different and contrasting);


Belfort meeting Naomi

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat);
  • Description:
    • We see some interesting dynamics here. First, we see Belfort immediately going for Naomi, and not caring about anything. Showing abundance and value. Accelerated by the home advantage, since she (and everyone else) is coming to his party;
    • Then, we see Naomi’s partner immediately turn sour and defensive. When he asks about the jet ski, he replies, “How many more times are you going to ask her?”. A bit of shaming, guilting, removing exits. But Belfort doesn’t care, either due to abundance or horniness, and simply replies, “I may ask a couple more times”. Also emphasizes how, when you have value, you don’t care about the contents of what you say. You say whatever you want, because you don’t care;
    • Also, we see salience when we see Donny jerking off. Regardless of how many partners Naomi and her partner go to, they will definitely remember this one even more now;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Abundance and value (Belfort’s attitude);
    • Grace under fire (Lack of it by Naomi’s partner, being defensive);
    • Salience (Donny jerking off, definitely standing out);


Belfort and Naomi going deeper

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • So, we see a great example of escalation of commitment here. They met, decided to go on a date, decided to have sex, and just kept investing more and more into each other. Very typical in a relationship, and the sex part is usually a dramatic step up in the escalation, because it’s a very intimate act. People rationalise afterwards, and the escalation is much more dramatic from there;
    • Then, after his wife catches him, we see a small identity contradiction, when she says, “I don’t know who you are anymore”, implying that isn’t him, and he shouldn’t do this, but naturally it’s a very small effort in such a big technique;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Escalation of commitment (Belfort and Naomi’s relationship progressing);
    • Identity contradictions (When Belfort is caught by his wife);


SEC visiting

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat);
  • Description:
    • I didn’t understand if they invited the SEC themselves or not, but if they did, it’s adverse transparency – they’re doing something negative they didn’t need to in order to communicate they’re trustworthy;
    • Then, we see some physiological priming in the conference room, when they turn the AC down to freeze the investigators. It’s a distraction, and erodes their willpower. It’s also a type of effort manipulation – making it harder to do their job, and therefore demotivating them;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Adverse transparency (In case Stratton invited the SEC themselves, it’s this at work, doing something against themselves to communicate trustworthiness);
    • Physiological priming (Distracting the investigators to make it harder for them to work);
    • Effort manipulation (Freezing the investigators to make it harder for them to work);


18 months timeskip

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • Naturally, we see the contrast between the two phases here. In terms of storytelling, this would be a good highlight, and a turning point. Either for better or worse;
    • It’s very interesting that we see Naomi saying “Don’t ‘Duchess’ me”, which is a great labeling manipulation tool. So, he used to call her that in the beginning of the relationship, as an endearing word, and now that the relationship seems to have gone downhill, she’s not allowing him to use the label, as if they are not the same people anymore. Great, subtle technique;
    • We also see ridicule here, and a great example of accelerating to a contradiction. That is, Naomi is claiming he woke up their daughter, she just put new grass on the garden, and had to deal with the landscaping people, and Belfort takes that and accelerates it further, making it seem ridiculous. “Oh, you probably had to pay them in cash, too? What a greek tragedy!”;
    • It’s pretty fun how he tries to use empathy as a weapon. He tries to get her to calm down, tries to seduce her with his muscles, but as soon as she throws the water on him, he goes back to raging again. Pretty funny, and a case of fake empathy at work;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Labeling manipulation (Naomi not allowing Belfort to call her ‘Duchess’);
    • Accelerating to a contradiction (Belfort agreeing with Naomi and accelerating it until it seems ridiculous);
    • Empathy (Used by Belfort, in an insincere way);


Employee cleaning his fishbowl

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat);
  • Description:
    • So, we see a contrast in the demanded image of the employees, and the image of this employee. Also, a complete mismatch of characteristics. As he says, “I had a minute”. Stratton Oakmont is a company that seems to be all about aggression, hustling hardcore, and not resting. And, on top of that, it’s the wrong day to be coasting, since there’s going to be added attention with the IPO. So he chose the wrong attitude (against company traits) at the worst possible time;
    • Then, we see some pressure and humiliation, with Donny giving him a lashing out (and firing) in public;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Characteristics + contextual power (Employee taking the wrong action, against company expectations, and precisely at the wrong time);


Steve Madden presenting

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • First, we see a bit of a disappointing presentation, as he’s not very good. Fumbling, no direct eye contact, etc. Lack of presence;
    • Then, he admits something negative he didn’t need to. That the new shoe is the same as the old one, just with a small change. It can be true, but he doesn’t need to admit it. Remember when I mention that adverse transparency only works if it’s a minor flaw, not a major one? Well, compromising your newest product isn’t a minor flaw;
    • Then, we see that people are throwing things at him, booing him. Then Belfort comes and calms them down, and says, “Did you get that out of your system?”. Permission manipulation. Giving them permission to move on;
    • Then, displayed authority. Belfort talking Madden up for him. Seems objective when it comes from someone else;
    • And finally, in the end, with his motivational speech, we see great use of contrast. First, when he says, “The client either buys or DIES”, and when he says, “Between rich and poor, I chose rich every time”. It’s also removing exits, when he says, “There’s no nobility in being poor”, as if, in case someone was thinking it, they don’t have permission to think it anymore;
    • Then, finally, we see a brilliant Dickens Pattern here. When Belfort is saying that in the future, they can be the guy with the Ferrari and the attractive wife, or the person with the bad car and unattractive wife, and going a lot into the details of both. Great execution;
    • Then, finally, we see motivation through pressure. Extreme pressure, in this case, but positive pressure. When he says, “Whatever is going on, pick up the phone and start dialing”, and when he says, “Ram that down their throats until they buy 10.000 shares”;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Presence (Lack of it by Madden);
    • Adverse transparency (Exaggerated, by Madden, backfiring);
    • Permission manipulation (Belfort telling people to calm down, giving themselves permission to stop attacking Madden);
    • Displayed authority (Belfort speaking up Madden);
    • Perceived contrast + removing exits (Multiple contrasting metaphors + telling them it’s not good to be poor);
    • Dickens pattern/positive and negative potentials (Belfort talking about where they can be in the future, both good and bad possibilities);
    • Pressure (Belfort convincing with positive pressure);


Belfort discussing Denham

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably);
  • Description:
    • So, what we see here is distracting. That is, Denham is trying to rattle Belfort and his team by catching them off-guard, and due to that, probably scaring some people and getting them to flip. Naturally, Belfort has been informed, so he’s not caught off-guard, but his people still may be;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Physiological priming (Distracting, by Denham);


Belfort meeting Denham

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Reasonably);
  • Description:
    • First, we see the home advantage at play. That is, Belfort agrees to speak on his terms. He shows off the girls and the food first – I don’t know if this is to entice them or rub it in their face, both seem likely;
    • Then, he gives him the list of people at the wedding. This can be considered a type of adverse transparency. He didn’t need to share this, it’s against him, but by doing it, he seems to be trustworthy and compliant;
    • Then, we see identity at play here. And labeling manipulation. When Denham mentions they pursue criminal actions, Belfort says, “Exactly, I’m not a criminal. You should be going after real criminals”. Distancing himself from the label, and redirecting it to someone else;
    • And finally, he uses a personal touch, giving him his personal number. Can also be considered giving with a sacrifice, something like, “I’m so busy, but let me share this just with you”. Almost exclusivity and secrecy too. Only he has access;
    • Then, Belfort throws it all away when he starts asking about how much Denham makes, and saying that can be changed just like that. So, so far he was being polite, and although Denham could have suspicions, he was OK. But now, he literally revealed he was investigating him back, and he’s bribing him. He lost it all here. I will consider it realistic, though, because for someone with a big ego, slipping up and showing off, making a mistake is 100% reasonable;
    • Then, it’s pretty hilarious when Denham tries to get him to repeat. It’s intent labeling – he’s trying to get him to repeat that, in the first person – and it’s standard manipulation by Belfort – he says the rule mentions there must be an exact dollar amount, so since there isn’t, it’s not technically a bribe;
    • Then, we see a very interesting example of abundance in the end, which is this set of insulting compliments by Denham. When Denham says, “You did this all on your own. Good for you, little man”, and “This is the biggest boat I’ve seen, it’s going to be so good when I confiscate it”. This is establishing dominance. Almost like you’re complimenting the other side because you’re better than them, and you recognise your inferior. And Belfort does the opposite when he tosses them the lobsters and money;
  • Techniques Present:
    • The home advantage + abundance (Belfort showing off at first);
    • Adverse transparency (Belfort sharing the guest list, which he didn’t need to);
    • Identity + labeling manipulation (Belfort moving away from the “criminal” label);
    • Personal touch + giving (Belfort giving Denham his personal number);
    • Intent labeling (Denham trying to get Belfort to repeat the bribe);
    • Standard manipulation (Belfort saying it’s not technically a bribe);
    • Abundance (Denham complimenting Jordan to insult him);


Stratton team with the banker

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • So, a great example of rigidity and tension here. They are doing small talk, and Belfort interrupts, saying, “What can you do for me?”, and just states at him until he breaks and says, “Sure”. A side note – just because you’re dominating the other side, doesn’t mean they will comply later. I personally think it’s a bad move to lead a negotiation by asserting dominance. The other side can resent you and get revenge later;
    • I also like how he’s gaming it out. He starts by asking under what circumstances they would cooperate with the US, and how that would work;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Tension/value + rigidity (Belfort making his ask and not reacting);
    • Implementation intention (Belfort discussing the details of how it would work);


Belfort convincing Aunt Emma

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat);
  • Description:
    • So, from the fact he says “The British are like the Swiss, money talks”, we can assume that he bribed her in some way;
    • Then, we see adverse transparency and justifications. First, he admits he’s a drug addict and only cares about money, which he didn’t need to, and he says it’s due to the stress, people depending on him, and so on;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Adverse transparency (Belfort confessing he’s an addict);
    • Justifications (Belfort justifying why he’s like that);


Donnie and Brad tension

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Extremely);
  • Description:
    • So, we see Donnie being extremely arrogant here, telling Brad, “I’ll give you a call and you’ll come pick it up”, as if he’s his delivery driver. It’s also unexpected rigidity, even if not on purpose, because Brad was only expecting to move Belfort’s money, and now Donnie wants in, too;
    • There are merits to both here. On one hand, it is Donnie’s money. On the other hand, if they weren’t expecting it, they don’t have to do it for him;
    • Then, we see more ego and arrogance during the pickup. Donnie is demanding for an apology, and uses a lot of suggestion and exposure (“I keep asking my wife, ‘Has he called to apologise yet?’, ‘Has he called to apologise yet?'”), which illustrates he should be the one apologising and Brad says he’s going to give him a pass. Both sides are condescending to each other;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Abundance/ego (Donnie being arrogant and wanting Brad to come to him + both being arrogant later);
    • Unexpected rigidity (Donnie asking for the pickup at the last minute);


Team convincing Belfort to step down

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat);
  • Description:
    • So, good arguments made here. We see a mini-Dickens Pattern here, too. If he cuts a deal, he will suffer little, but if he stays the consequences can be very bad;
    • We also see identity here at play. That is, Jordan believes that, since he built the company, he has to stay at the helm, but his dad is saying that his focus should be on preserving it. That is, his identity is not being CEO, his identity is creating something that survives, with or without him;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Dickens Pattern (Riskin illustrating the two scenarios to Belfort);
    • Identity contradictions (Belfort’s father saying that it’s not about creating the company, it’s about growing it);


Stratton employees being interrogated

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Somewhat);
  • Description:
    • So, we see effort manipulation here. That is, by interrogating everyone, and borderline harassing them, the FBI is making it as hard as possible to hide things. They’re putting them through the wringer. But they’ve been indoctrinated enough, so they resist even this very high level of effort;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Effort manipulation (The FBI making it as hard as possible for Stratton employees to hide their actions);


FBI with Belfort

  • Is It Realistic: Yes (Very);
  • Description:
    • So, the “Grenada” metaphor is a great example of labeling manipulation. They simplified his case into being a slam dunk, an assured win. That’s what labels do. It’s reduced to the simplistic characteristics of “we win”;
    • I also love the intent labeling in the end. That is, Belfort wants them to specifically state they want him to “rat”, as if this is going to discourage them, and the agent does hesitate, saying, “No, it’s cooperating”, but then Denham gets tired and says, “Yes, that’s exactly what we want you to do”;
  • Techniques Present:
    • Labeling manipulation (Them calling his case a “Grenada”);
    • Intent labeling (Belfort asking the, “You want me to rat? Is that it?”);

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