Watching and listening to Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno square-off against NBC and each other was getting really ugly. The situation, which NBC admittedly mishandled, was pretty bad. Everyone was losing something—NBC was losing money, Jay Leno was losing his prime-time show and Conan was losing the Tonight Show. In the midst of all the talk was a business negotiation between NBC and Conan O’Brien.

In the end, Conan has agreed to walk away from the Tonight Show. Read more about the settlement.

The question is: Was Conan a heckler and did it help or hurt him?

In a negotiation, the heckler is the person who exploits weaknesses and generally, does not treat people courteously. Heckling can be verbal, physical and psychological. Verbal heckling includes kidding and nonsense talk. Physical heckling may include uncomfortable seating arrangements. Psychological heckling may include questioning someone’s intelligence, deliberately ignoring people, or even subtle threats.

Unfortunately, heckling can work in the short run because it shakes people up. A heckler’s goal is to reduce the ability of the other party to deal with the negotiation at hand. People may resort to heckling as a last ditch effort to shift the power in a negotiation.

We don’t know how the internal business negotiations were handled between Conan and NBC. However, we did witness lots of public sparring and put-downs. (Read this New York Times article about the decrease in civility) It may be safe to assume that Conan did engage in some heckling with NBC, and that in the end, he got what he wanted.

Heckling may have helped Conan in his negotiation with NBC, but it may have hurt him in the public’s eyes. We will have to wait and see where and when he reappears.

Have you ever dealt with a heckler? Have you heckled in a negotiation?

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