Using Knowledge and Creativity to Settle a Negotiation: An Interview with Ron Shapiro
By Natalie Holder-Winfield
Natalie Holder-Winfield is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and is a diversity consultant for QUEST Educational Initiatives, a consulting firm that provides diversity and skills development training to law firms, bar associations, and law schools.
One of the most talked about highlights from the 2006 ABA YLD Fall Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, was keynote speaker Ron Shapiro. From civil rights lawyer to a negotiator sought after by Major League baseball players and famous television personalities, Shapiro has conducted training and seminars that have helped half a million people become better negotiators. The affable author of Power of Nice: How to Negotiate So Everyone Wins—Especially You! and Bullies, Tyrants & Impossible People: How to Beat Them Without Joining Them shares some of his negotiation strategies and lessons he learned as a young lawyer:
The Affiliate : How did you make the transition from practicing law to becoming a negotiator?
Shapiro: I guess you could say that I made the transition circumstantially. I started out as a civil rights lawyer and then moved into securities law and real estate law. One can not practice in those areas without negotiating. As Maryland’s securities commissioner, I was forced to negotiate because I was a staff of one. I had to learn how to negotiate because I could not possibly litigate everything that came in front of me—although I let people think I would. As a result of my background in business law and securities law, the Baltimore Orioles baseball team asked me to help Brooks Robinson, now a Hall of Famer, who at the time had serious financial difficulties. After I successfully represented Brooks, he asked me to negotiate his last baseball contract. I did. Then all of a sudden other players were asking me to do the same for them. Then I set up, separate from my law firm, a sports agency that negotiated contracts and managed finances, initially, for Major League baseball players and then subsequently for broadcast television personalities.
The Affiliate : What are some of your negotiation strategies?
Shapiro: What has evolved over time and really is embodied in my book, the Power of Nice and in the seminars I teach, is a simple philosophy: to get what I want or what my client wants, I’m going to help the other side get what it wants. I look for ways to negotiate where my relationship with the other side is not damaged and hopefully enhanced. Relationships are very important. I have to emphasize that when I say Win-win, one “win” is typed in a larger sized type than the other win because someone is going to get more than the other. As I often say, Win-win is not wimp-wimp. And, that led to my developing a systematic approach to negotiation, which is embodied in the 3 Ps: prepare, probe, and propose. I’ve created a preparation planner, a seven-step process for preparing for a negotiation. It takes into account certain information that you should have and digest before you start talking to the other side. As you’re preparing, you also reach out to the other side, but, rather than make proposals as to the scope of the contract or the dollars involved, you ask questions and probe. Once you have prepared and probed you are in a much better position for the proposal stage of the negotiation.
The Affiliate : What skills do you believe make a negotiator successful?
Shapiro: The skills that make a really good negotiator are listening skills, not feeling the need to talk, and understanding the power of asking questions. So, someone with a high emotional IQ—someone who does not have to show how smart he or she is—will be more effective in solving the challenges. Let the other party play smart because you are going to get more information that way.
The Affiliate : What are some of the lessons you learned as a young lawyer?
Shapiro: Mistakes that stand out are my first contract negotiation with Brooks Robinson. I was a great preparer, but when I met with the general manager of the Orioles I was so excited by all the research I had done to support my position in the negotiations that I jumped in and laid it all out for him and hardly asked any questions. So he got all my information, and I got nothing from him. And then when I was finished he looked across the table, and, rather than give me any information, he said, “Ron, I’ll get back to you.” That taught me the importance of being the listener and the analyzer instead of the immediate provider and proposer.
Also, I represented Oprah Winfrey early in her career. After a period of time, she signed with another agent and someone in my office said that we had to collect our fee. I retained an attorney and told him to go ahead and do whatever he wanted. I forgot an essential part of negotiations: relationships. We collected our money but I damaged the relationship with Oprah. Now, I’m sure if I had picked up the phone and not been upset by her switching agents, that relationship could have been maintained. You make mistakes along the way. To be a teacher you have to be willing to be vulnerable and not be a know it all. It only enhances people’s desire to hear how you corrected the situation.
I have had numerous enjoyable experiences as a negotiator, from reaching settlement negotiations for Cal Ripken, Jr.’s deadlocked contract to settling an employment strike with the symphony orchestra. Using your knowledge and creativity to settle a negotiation to end housing discrimination—now that’s enjoyable.