Show me the money!” That refrain from the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, shouted by a football player to his agent, continues to echo through U.S. professional sports negotiations today. A public arena, enormous piles of cash, and even bigger egos combine to make sports negotiations a unique context. Yet anyone who has negotiated through agents, faced a competitive atmosphere, or lacked strong deal alternatives can learn a lot from team athletics.
Why are sports talks tough? In his chapter “First, Let’s Kill All the Agents!” in Negotiating on Behalf of Others (Sage, 1999), Harvard Business School professor Michael Wheeler analyzes the key features that can make sports negotiations so contentious.
Aggressive tactics and hard-bargaining strategies may, at face value, provide a roadmap to success at the bargaining table but, as the Washington Post’s Kelly Johnson discovered in her interview with Program on Negotiation faculty member Michael Wheeler, adaptability to ever-changing circumstances is essential for the “dynamic” negotiations one encounters in everyday life.
“I’ve learned to make chaos my friend in negotiation,” says Thomas Green, managing director of Citigroup Global Markets and former first assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Green’s provocative remark flies in the face of conventional negotiation wisdom. Shouldn’t we be able to get our ducks in a row before going to the bargaining table?
And when we’re done, aren’t we supposed to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s? We’re taught that the purpose of strategy is to chart the optimal path for reaching our goals. Embracing chaos seems the opposite of discipline and planning.
A Q&A with Michael Wheeler, author of The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World.
We recently interviewed Michael Wheeler, HBS Professor and PON faculty member, about his critically acclaimed new book, The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World. In his latest offering, Wheeler introduces his powerful, next-generation approach to negotiation that takes into account the dynamic, and often uncertain, nature of negotiations.
In late October, the Detroit Tigers were preparing to face off against the San Francisco Giants in Major League Baseball’s World Series. In 2002 and 2003, the Tigers had two of the worst seasons in baseball history, losing a combined 225 games. But through years of calculated decision making and negotiations, team president Dave Dombrowski and his staff rebuilt the team from the ground up, writes Noah Trister of the Associated Press. The Tigers have reached the World Series for the second time in seven seasons and, at the time of this writing, are favored to beat the Giants.
When negotiators sign on the dotted line, they sometimes worry about the wrong concerns. “Did I overpay?” wonders the buyer as he inks the sales agreement. Across the table, the seller is thinking, “I bet if I’d pushed a little harder, I would have gotten more.”