How To Deliver an Ultimatum
By Leigh Steinberg, the sports superagent who inspired the movie Jerry Maguire and who has negotiated more than $2.5 billion in contracts for clients such as Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Lennox Lewis, and Sugar Ray Leonard.
The occasional broadside may be necessary to attract somebody's attention. It's important, however, to carefully calculate the degree to which the face-saving of participants will come into play. All human beings have pride, and when they are humiliated, they may act against self-interest. If, like me, you find yourself dealing with men who've made a fortune in the rough-and-tumble free enterprise system, remember that the perception of who's winning can be more important to them than what's being negotiated. The more a proud person like that is painted into a corner, the more ridiculous a negotiator makes him seem, the more he is seen as yielding publicly, the less likely he may be to give in.
It reminds me of a negotiation I did in 1979 with the Cardinals football team when they were in St. Louis. I had a draft pick named Theotis Brown. To get the price up, in the press, I accused the owner, Bill Bidwell, of withholding the largess of the ticket holders. The fans responded. Polls showed we were winning the argument hands down.
The problem was, the more I called Bidwell a tightwad, the more intransigent he became, and our actual goal got farther away. My bluff got called. Theotis took the offer, and Bill Bidwell donated the difference between that and what we wanted to his favorite charity. I realized then that the strategy of winning a battle in public could be counterproductive. The only relevant party is the person who can actually give you what you want. I never made that mistake again.
--As told to Ian Mount