A Primer in How Not to Negotiate
It’s really rare to run across a real-life step-by-step public guide on how not only to not negotiate but how not to act while negotiating.
Thank you, Major League Baseball.
Yes, MLB is going back to work after having to take a pause due to COVID. The final ‘agreement’ was signed Tuesday night about four and a half hours after the absolute-drop-dead time – a perfect mini-picture of the MLB and Players Association’s relationship. I was glad to see it finalized, but I was upset because I had six hours late in the office pool.
The players are headed for training camps next week, games should be starting around July 25, 2020. It’s hard to wrap my head around a 60-game season, but, really, it doesn’t matter just to have baseball on in the background while I work, write, read, and sleep. This will get me through mid-October. My one bold prediction: no one will set any season records.
Here’s the thing about the decision to go back to baseball: the ‘deal’ is exactly the same deal the two sides could have struck (and actually did) on March 26th. That’s 10 weeks, 3 days or so ago. That’s 10 weeks, 3 days or so of acrimony, misunderstandings, and things that are better left unsaid being said aloud and tweeted, just to make sure the world heard.
It was ugly, it was inane, infuriating at times, a hodge-podge of hurt feelings, past grievances, and really, really bad math.
I loved it.
I love baseball, but I loved this more because it’s over, and it is perfect for teaching purposes. You could teach an entire course in negotiating and never exhaust the lessons of these last weeks.
A few of my thoughts about the lessons this has taught on how not to negotiate:
Don’t Agree to a Bunch of Ifs.
Ah, the March 26th agreement. This was done on the fly, in haste bordering on panic, and at the exact moment total uncertainty descended across the United States. The NBA had just stopped playing in the middle of a game; MLB called spring training a little early and then announced a ‘two-week’ delay to the season.
The effects of the pandemic, certainly the shutdowns and quarantines, were in the future. Nevertheless, MLB and the players agreed to agree, ‘when things calm down and we can play again we’ll decide on how many games – but, hey, sixty minimum – and, of course, everyone gets their full salaries prorated for the number of games we play.’ The rest of the agreement was a litany of maybes and we’ll review when the time comes.
When that time came, in May, when everyone started getting a handle on pandemic planning, MLB made a ‘new’ proposal to the players. They claimed that the number of games and salaries were provisional and needed to be reviewed and, in essence, re-agreed on. And so the real drama began.
If You Need to Change an Agreement Because of New Circumstances, Don’t Begin by Telling the Other Side How Reasonable You Are.
Yeah, the MLB let the world know how incredibly reasonable they were being in light of the economic downturn by asking the players to ‘play more than 60 games, but at 60-80% of their salaries, additionally pro-rated.’ They told the players they needed to sacrifice like everyone else along with, of course, “You need to forget the original salary agreement.” Not a great way to get the players in a mood to negotiate.
Don’t Say Trust Me.
MLB said they would lose $640,000 per game if they played with no fans in attendance. That number rose a bit over a couple of weeks. “Wow,” said the Players Association, “that’s a lot, can you show us how that works?”
Nope, nope, and nope. MLB’s books are closed, they – and they’ve only been doing this since the 1870s – release only what they want to release, numbers-wise. But they swore it was really, really true this time. It’s hard to come to agreement you think is fair for everyone when one side won’t give you any evidence to back up their claims.
Keep Your House in Order.
Nothing hurt the Players Association more than resident Tweeter denizen and left-handed ace, Blake Snell, deciding to go off on one of MLB’s proposals. A lot of it was right. Unfortunately, Snell was in effect yelling, and the only thing almost everyone heard was “I’m not playing for less pay. I don’t care how many people are currently unemployed.” There is a right place and right time for criticism and suggestions, Snell just went about it the wrong way.
Don’t lie. Other People Do Math, Too.
The MLB threw out a half dozen proposals all with a different amount of games and different percentages of player salary. They also threw in a 50-50 revenue share. Of course, this is not a hugely attractive proposition when the people making it claim they will lose $640,000 a day.
The MLB claimed that their new pay scenarios came out to ‘more’ or at least the ‘same’ as the original agreement. TV pundits were off their gourds saluting the owners, but the print media did the math – not even close. Making a mistake doing the numbers is perfectly understandable; trying to spin the numbers is just a stupid way to make bad feelings worse. Essentially, lying is going to put you in a worse position than you were before. And don’t think you won’t get caught in the lie, because almost always you will.
Don’t Misrepresent Your Assets.
One owner gave an interview in which he proclaimed his disgust with the ‘greedy’ players. “I,” he said, “am going to lose $3 million, they still make their salaries.” He left out he bought the team fifteen years ago for $150 million and it was just valued at $2.2 billion. And take it from us, it’s really hard to negotiate with someone who can’t see the big picture and gets hung up on the little details (and yes, in this case, $3 million is little).
Don’t Agree, Then Hand the Other Side a Letter Telling Them What Dicks They Were.
Yes, MLB did exactly that. This leads to my favorite tip, which I internally call, “Don’t Burn a Bridge Today and Ask the Other Side to Walk Across It Tomorrow”.
Always Remember You Might Be Negotiating Again.
The MLB-Players Association contract runs out in December 2021. They are not off to an encouraging start.