Negotiation Blog

Politicians' Negotiations -- What Can We Learn?

By Thomas Wood

Whatever the nature of our negotiations (commercial, legal, regulatory, internal, etc) we can learn from the ups and downs of some of the most prominent public negotiations. With the Euro in serious trouble and economies worldwide shaken, government negotiations over economic strategies are around the clock and very public. The US negotiations over federal budgets, taxes and spending are a prime example.

With several US significant tax and spending provisions set to kick in (or lapse) in December and January, official Washington will be furiously bargaining at year’s end. And the stakes couldn’t be higher: the fate of the US national economy, the credit rating of the U.S. government, and the confidence of the American people in their elected representatives’ ability to tackle big problems.

In last summer’s negotiations, President Obama and the Congress' House Speaker John Boehner came close to striking a “grand bargain” on long-term debt reduction. It combined restrictions on the growth of entitlement programs (which are trades dear to the Democrat party) with increased taxes on the wealthy (which is anathema to the Republican party). But at the last minute the deal fell apart. Examining elements of this failed negotiation through the prism of Best Negotiating Practices may well provide insight into what could happen at the end of this year, as well as provide guidance for our daily bargaining.

The 2011 budget talks were prompted by a deadline—namely, the need to raise the US government’s debt ceiling so it could borrow more money to pay its bills. Congressional Republicans used this deadline to try to force concessions: they refused to increase the government’s borrowing authority without obtaining agreement by the Administration to substantial budget cuts. While absolute deadlines can be helpful in focusing energy and avoiding unnecessary delay, skilled negotiators can also use arbitrary deadlines as tactic to gain advantage.

The Republicans took a position opposed to any tax increases.  The President’s position was that he would not accept the level of cuts in entitlement programs sought by the Republicans without an increase in taxes on the wealthy. For both sides, the interest was to achieve debt reduction while maintaining the support of each party’s political base. Negotiators sought a solution—as good negotiators should—that served the two parties’ interests, even if it seemed to violate their positions (raising taxes by closing loopholes rather than raising rates, for example).

When the deal collapsed, Democrats charged that Boehner had lacked sufficient authority to bargain, and had been overruled by his Republican colleagues in the House. Negotiators should always have sufficient authority to strike a deal, but not absolute authority: carrying limited authority allows them to postpone or deflect unwelcome proposals. In the end, both sides decided that no deal was better than what they viewed as a bad one. They could both revert to the same, ready-made Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA): elections, in which each side might achieve at the polling place what it couldn’t at the bargaining table.

While political negotiators in each country and all governments have special advantages and restrictions, everyone involved in negotiation can benefit from studying their successes and failures. It will be interesting to see if the US federal budget negotiators busy later this year are among those who have learned anything.

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Three Possible Next Plays in Deflategate

By Marianne Eby

Deflategate continues to enlighten us -- not just about American football, or alleged scandals, or even the science of air pressure in balls in cold weather -- but about what happens when parties can’t reach a negotiated solution to their dispute. Last week opened with an appeals court reinstating New England Patriots' quarterback, Tom Brady's 4-game suspension, and ended with a court filing by the Brady team. The many plays that have occurred and the ones yet to come demonstrate the perils of litigation, the power of having a Plan B or BATNA, and that there is still benefit to and time for a negotiated solution.

When my colleague at Watershed Associates, Leslie Mulligan, wrote about Deflategate in July and again in September 2015, she quite rightly predicted that we have not seen the last of the NFL v. Brady case. She exposed the various stakeholders and their potential interests – why they might want what they are demanding. She also talked about the parties’ Plan Bs, or BATNAs (best alternatives to a negotiated agreement) – what moves they might make if no agreement is possible.

What Leslie couldn't know then was how the 2015 NFL season or the appeal of a lower court decision would ultimately play out, and what would be the next moves by parties who so far had not found common ground on which to negotiate a resolution of their differences.

The parties in court are technically the National Football League (NFL) Management Council, and the National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA). The parties who everyone talks about are NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the star quarterback Tom Brady.  Brady’s football team, the New England Patriots, are involved as they certainly care about winning games (and the revenue) that could be impacted by a suspension of Brady for his alleged role in the scandal. Roger Goodell is under great pressure to keep the League’s owners satisfied with his leadership decisions and equal treatment among teams, so the other teams’ owners are major stakeholders. And of course the NFLPA needs to demonstrate that it will protect the rights of the players, like Brady.

These parties chose to execute their litigation BATNA to resolve this dispute rather than negotiate a solution. As a former litigator myself, I know well the perils of litigation. Negotiation can be win-win or win-lose, but litigation is almost always lose-lose, and it has played out exactly that way in Deflategate.

The parties’ BATNAs in and outside the courthouse have continued to unfold. Last week a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reinstated the 4-game suspension issued by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell against the New England Patriots' star quarterback, Tom Brady. This is probably not the final play in what has been a drama filled game of questionable tactics.

Unlike litigation, negotiating a settlement of their dispute had the potential to put the solution within the parties’ control. They could have mutually determined how they would be perceived, their investment of resources (15+ months, lawyers fees, personal time and stress) and the ultimate outcome. Litigation, on the other hand, held the potential to declare a final winner and a loser, raising the stakes significantly. Sometimes implementing the BATNA of litigation is the only way to satisfy our interests, but it usually comes at great cost to both parties.

There are always winners and losers, but it’s the Interests that underlie the wins and losses that really matter.

With commentary from me on what really mattered throughout Deflategate, let’s review Brady's win-loss record on and off the field, and in and outside the courthouse, and what was really at issue in each stage of this game since January 2015.

Brady wins
Jan 18, 2015 - Tom Brady leads the Patriots to win 45-7 in the AFC Championship game.
​►What matters?  Brady is a star football player and key to the Patriots' win record. A defeat of this magnitude certainly doesn't come about from pure ball tampering, but it does leave others wanting pay-back.

Brady loses
Jan 23, 2015 – NFL announces investigation into allegedly deflated balls (or as it turned out, possibly one ball); Deflategate is born!
►What matters?  NFL’s interest here is ostensibly the integrity of the game.

Brady wins
February 1, 2015 - Midway through the 4th quarter of the 2015 Super Bowl, the Patriots are down by 10 points, but Brady isn't resigned to lose. Brady leads the Patriots to victory as Super Bowl XLIX champions.
►What matters? Brady and the Patriots don’t need deflated balls to win.

Brady loses 3 consecutive moves
May 2015 – NFL issues harsh penalties. Brady gets a 4-game suspension to take place in the 2015 season for his alleged role in Deflategate. The NFL also imposes a $1,000,000 fine on the Patriots and takes away the team’s first and fourth round draft picks.
►What matters?  The offical interests seem to be that the NFL won’t cover up even alleged complicity by one of its superstars and that it doesn’t “play favorites” with the teams. But there is a behind the scenes interest as well – that Goodell is beholden to all teams’ Owners and they haven’t forgotten past cheating by the Patriots.

June & July 2015 - Arbitration of an internal NFL appeal: NFL Commissioner Goodell, acting as the arbitrator, denies Brady’s appeal and upholds the suspension.
►What matters?  The NFL’s power to conduct the investigation as it saw fit and issue penalties as it deems appropriate are paramount to its leverage with the players’ association.

Minutes later? Beating Brady and the NFLPA to the courthouse door, the NFL files a lawsuit in US District Court in New York to affirm the arbitrator’s decision.
►What matters? NFL files in NY to avoid ending up in a Minnesota federal court that has been more friendly to players.

Brady wins 3 consecutive moves
book of law with judge's gavel Brady is unstoppable throughout the 2015 NFL season.

Sept 3, 2015 – Federal District Court's Judge Berman vacates Goodell's decision and rules in favor of Brady. The Judge urged the parties to settle. Berman finds legal deficiencies that were fatal to the NFL’s suspension (inadequate notice to Brady of the possible punishment, lack of access to investigative files, and not letting Brady examine the lead investigator). 
►What matters?  Goodell’s conduct (rulings and decision) at the hearing are deemed unfair and in breach of the collective bargaining agreement.

The NFL didn't try to stop Brady from playing in the 2015 season, and the Patriots ultimately secured the AFC East Division title.

Around the same time, the academics finally weigh in. MIT professor John Leonard releases his study of the data – the math and the football – and he concludes that “no deflation occurred and the Patriots are innocent. It never happened.” It’s all over YouTube: MIT Professor Debunks Deflategate. And Harvard Business School has around a thousand students grapple with a case study about Deflategate, developed by professors Marco Iansiti and David Sarnoff. Iansiti comments:

“The data are the data. A lot of the proceedings are now frankly more about the power relationships between different stakeholders in the whole environment, and less about what actually happened with the bloody footballs.”

►What matters? Brady and the Patriots have multiple moral victories that no court can erase. It’s clear that Deflategate is all about the power of the organizations involved, and litigation, as is often true, is only a vehicle to increase or avoid losing that power.

Brady loses
December 22, 2015, the NFL files an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. And in January Brady and the Patriots lose the AFC Championship to the eventual 2016 Super Bowl champions, the Denver Broncos.
►What matters?  The NFL’s power to enforce its decisions is paramount to its leverage with the NFLPA, regardless that the facts favoring Brady are mounting. On appeal, the law matters (not the facts), and winning on the field is as unpredictable as court.

Brady wins
March 2016 – Brady renegotiates his salary to include a $28M signing bonus for his $60M multi-year contract.
►What matters? Brady reduces his year-1 salary to $1M and thereby ensures that he protects a large portion of his earnings with a signing bonus the NFL can’t touch in the event that the 4-game suspension is reinstated on appeal, after the questioning at the hearing on March 3 didn’t bode well.

Goodell hedges on whether the NFL will enforce Brady’s suspension if the NFL is successful on appeal.

“That is not an individual player issue,” Goodell said then. “This is about the rights we negotiated in our collective bargaining agreement. We think they are very clear. We think they are important to the league going forward and we disagree with the district judge’s decision.”

►What matters? The NFL’s real interest is in protecting its rights under collective bargaining agreements; the facts aside and well beyond the implications for Tom Brady.

Brady loses
Apr 25, 2016 – US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York issues decision overriding Judge Berman and reinstating the Brady’s suspension, with one dissenting opinion. 
►What matters? Judge Berman’s improper application of the law in overturning Goodell acting as arbitrator of his own decision. The NFL’s power in collective bargaining is re-established. 

Brady wins
Brady holds the #1 spot for sales of NFL players merchandise for the 2015-16 season.
►What matters? Since his initial suspension, Brady surpassed both Quarterback Peyton Manning’s merchandise sales even though Manning led the Denver Broncos to be Super Bowl champs in 2016, and the merchandise sales for Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, who held the #1 spot for the previous 2 years. The players get 2/3 of the money from the merchandise sales. One could conclude from this that Deflategate improved Brady’s reputation rather than hurt it.

What are the parties' next moves?
Who wins or loses next?  More importantly, what really matters?

The NFL wants happy fans, the assurance of power in its collective bargaining agreements with the players’ union, and increased revenue. The NFL has lost a great deal of respect to protect those interests. Tom Brady is by all measures a star football player, but he wants to go down in history as an honest football legend, not to lose income, and as a winner on and off the field.

Will the parties rely again on the strength of their BATNAs, or will they finally see that their interests can be addressed in a negotiated agreement – that they can move from lose-lose to win-win?

Here are the 3 possible next plays in Deflategate:

  1. Goodell and the NFL retreat
    Goodell and the NFL could reduce the suspension or choose not to enforce it against Brady, having adequately secured confirmation of Goodell’s power and the NFL’s rights under collective bargaining agreements.
     
  2. Brady and the NFLPA advance
    Brady and the NFLPA could ask for a stay of his suspension and seek to get a majority of the 13 active judges in the 2nd Circuit to agree for all 13 judges to review the 3-judge panel’s ruling.  Or Brady and the NFLPA could seek an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Neither option has a great chance of success.
     
  3. What if the parties negotiate a solution and regain control over the outcome of this dispute.
    The mere threat of filing an appeal could act as leverage to get the NFL to negotiate a settlement that releases the suspension. Brady and the NFLPA have just strengthened their leverage by showing a willingness and ability to execute their BATNA of filing an appeal; they officially added Theodore Olson to their legal team, a former U.S. Solicitor General who has argued before the Supreme Court 62 times.

The NFL has won the legal issues at this juncture, and may want to avoid any risk of a further appeal, given the strong dissent by Judge Katzmann, who found the Commissioner breached his authority.

Brady doesn’t have much more to gain even if he wins the next court decision, given that his popularity actually increased during Deflategate, the Patriots re-signed him and helped him avoid most of the financial hit a suspension will impose, and there are many experts who question not just the NFL’s actions during Deflategate, but the evidence itself, leaving Brady’s integrity largely intact.

Of course Brady and the Patriots want to win football games, and the team’s chances of reaching the playoffs in the upcoming season are increased if Brady plays those first 4 games. But that outcome is attainable in a settlement, and does not need a court decision. We don’t know what are the parties’ next moves, but we can be pretty sure everyone wants to see more of Tom Brady playing football, especially when he may not have many seasons left.

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3 Key Negotiation Issues to Watch in Deflategate

By Leslie Mulligan

Will Tom Brady or Roger Goodell come out the winner in the NFL's DeflateGate? Who has the skills and strategies to win the next round? Get your tickets because this negotiation is a game everybody is watching.

NFL camps are opening this week all over the US, and football-hungry fans are getting excited about watching their teams – and favorite players – on the gridiron again. One huge problem hanging over the start of the season: what will happen to much-beloved Tom Brady, locked in battle with NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell and the "ownership powers that be," over DeflateGate? Did Tom Brady break the rules with football deflation in the AFC championship game, and if so (or even if he just “covered up” potential evidence), what punishment fits this crime?

The NFL handed down a 4-game suspension back in May 2015 and the players' union, NFLPA, appealed in June. Just this week, Commissioner Goodell upheld his decision: the 4-game suspension stands. But the questions may linger - what is fair in this situation, and what will be accepted by those football-hungry fans, especially when Tom Brady was just announced as the #1 seller of NFL merchandising for Q1 this year, from the NFLPA’s Top 50 Player Sales list.

How can Roger Goodell and NFL ownership keep fans happy, while retaining control over league activities? The balance of power is intriguing.  – can a win-win be reached between the NFL and Tom Brady’s camp, especially now that Goodell has solidified his position with his latest ruling? Here are the issues to watch.

Stakeholders are Issue #1 to Watch

An essential concept in negotiations is to manage your stakeholders, in part by recognizing and hopefully meeting their interests: Goodell has a number of stakeholders, and their interests are not necessarily aligned. The NFL (and NFL Owners) makes close to $10B in revenue a year, with an aim of reaching $25B by 2027 – the top professional sports league in the world.

And they pay Goodell handsomely; in 2012, Goodell’s salary was $44M (this is the last published salary, as after 2012, the NFL relinquished its tax-exempt status and closed ranks on disclosing salaries). Goodell clearly wants to keep the owners happy! In fact, at least two of these very powerful owners lobbied hard to uphold the 4 game suspension – Jim Irsay (Indianapolis Colts- the team that lost to Brady in the infamous game) and Steve Bisciotti (Baltimore Ravens). So it is no surprise that Goodell doubled-down on his decision this week.

Tom Brady’s last contract was $57 million over 5 years – orders of magnitude lower than NFL revenue and less than Goodell’s own salary, but in the court of public opinion, Brady’s power is significant.  The NFL assuredly wants to keep all of those jersey-buying fans happy too, as their zeal fills the owners’ cash registers. It seemed as if the majority of fans wanted Brady’s suspension lightened if not lifted – that will play out on the airwaves in the coming days, as we see how fans react to Goodell’s decision.

Interests are Issue #2 to Watch

Both sides of this conflict have myriad interests in play. It is essential to understand and prioritize your interests, and determine what is driving the other side, in order to attain a win-win outcome in any negotiation. Goodell clearly wants to keep the NFL owners and the fans happy, but he has a self-serving interest too: he wants to preserve his reputation and legacy as an outstanding Commissioner. His reputation has taken repeated hits lately with various league scandals. As he ponders next steps, surely he wants to avoid second-guessing in the media, questioning his leadership. How his decision to uphold the suspension preserves, or sullies, his reputation remains to be seen.

Tom Brady is also very interested in self-preservation – he values his earnings potential both as an NFL player but as a champion endorser too! If he is viewed as a cheater, his short-term income from promotions, commercials and other sponsorships may dry up. In 2013, Brady's endorsement income was $7M, not too far below his NFL annual salary.

But probably more important to Tom Brady than his marketing potential is his legacy as one of the best, if not the best, quarterback to have played the game. He went on record in January to proclaim he was not a cheater. The new information that he had his cell phone destroyed after the investigation began raises the stakes for him. He wants to be in the pantheon of immortal NFL players, and with 4 championships under his belt already, he was on his way. It is no surprise that Brady wanted the entire 4-game suspension wiped away – with the recognition that he did not cheat. So his interest is clear, but how to best achieve it?

BATNAs are Issue #3 to Watch

Tom Brady and the NFLPA have one major lever – their BATNA! In this case, their Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement, or Plan B, is to take the NFL to court. And they have been clear that they are willing to do just that: they are willing to execute their BATNA and go to court. BATNAs are most powerful when the other side believes you have a strong Plan B (or more than one alternative, even) and are willing to execute it. Back in June during the initial appeal, Brady’s defense attorney publicly stated that they have a strong case, and many in legal circles agree.  

The NFL has a lot on the line; some recent NFL investigations did not go so smoothly (remember the Ray Rice case), but Roger Goodell has shown that he is also willing to execute his BATNA. The last thing that Roger Goodell and the NFL probably want is a protracted legal proceeding, including all that might come out in the Discovery phase of litigation, but that seems to be the path we are on. Just a few days ago, Forbes published an article that suggests Brady and team will prevail in court. If that's an accurate assessment, Goodell's priority must be keeping his stakeholders happy at this stage.

End game?

One hope is that cooler heads will soon prevail, as an underlying, common Interest in play for both parties should be a speedy resolution. Brady assuredly wants to get on the field – he only loses $2M if he misses all 4 games, but he would snap his 13-year record of season opening starts. And Goodell would like to open the NFL season with happy fans (and happy owners). But for the moment, we are at the stage of litigation threats. It will be fascinating to see how this unfolds.

We will know soon enough if they are able to pull back from their BATNAs and negotiate some form of a win-win solution. Interests and stakeholders are now well understood; opening and counter-offers have been made and BATNAs revealed. Let’s hope they focus on Best Negotiating Practices rather than legal tactics in the near term, and close the books on this rapidly, so that the start of the American football season can kick off happily for all parties - especially the fans!

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Debriefing key negotiations makes you a better negotiator. Reflection on what worked and didn’t is money in the negotiating bank.


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What Negotiators Can Learn From Kids

By Thomas Wood

In our negotiation workshops, some of our favorite examples of effective negotiating strategies come from kids. They always get a laugh of recognition, because even our most experienced negotiators know that they can be outmaneuvered by a 4-year old.

There are countless parenting blogs and books devoted to negotiating with your kids, or avoiding negotiation with your kids -- all designed to help you handle the little wizards without losing your shirt. One blog, "Like A Dad," reviews a few common kid tactics as a way of helping parents recognize and prepare for them. But as negotiators, we need to ask -- what tactics can we learn from them?

Kids with caring parents do have a number of advantages over adult negotiators -- they won't do damage to their reputation if they are unprofessional, whiny, or outrageous in their demands. But here are five effective negotiation strategies kids use that we should too -- followed by a few we should leave to the less mature./learning-center-item/listen-loudly.html

Top Five Negotiating Strategies From Kids:

  • Think big. When my son was two, he heard the crinkling of a candy wrapper in my pocket. He said "candy?" I said "oh, would you like one?" He said "two." Kids ask for what they want, not for what they think you'll agree to. In fact, they have a good idea that you will not agree. They have no compunction about starting with their Most Desirable Outcome (MDO). If they want three cookies, they'll ask for five, then do the "incremental number drop." Aiming high is the key to beginning negotiations that will produce a satisfying outcome.
  • Don't take no for an answer. When kids hear "no," they get motivated, not discouraged. Kids often understand "no," or "time's up" as a signal to begin negotiating. You too should recognize "no" as a sign that you and your bargaining partner don't understand each other, and you need to ask more questions.
  • Be genuinely curious. Kids' love to ask the question "why?" not to drive you crazy, but because they really want to know. They keep asking questions, open-ended questions, with the same enthusiasm as their first question. Kids have infinite energy for questioning and testing the limits parents establish. I once told my son he couldn't do something dangerous that his sister had just done. After a little back and forth I offered the standard stumper, "if your sister jumped off a cliff, would you?" His answer: "how high is the cliff?" And then "could you slide down it?"
  • Be creative. My son's question about the cliff was so creative I had to hand it to him -- perhaps I even made a concession. Creativity always creates more -- more possibilities, more concession ideas, more value, more goodwill. If the other side sees that you thinking creatively about how to satisfy their real interests, you are more likely to get a concession and develop a good relationship. So nurture your childlike creativity, because research says that up to age 5, we are using about 85% of our creative power, but that by the age of 12, our creative output has shrunk to about 2% of our potential.
  • Play one parent off another, or, know who to ask. Kids know how to manage ALL the stakeholders. They know which parent is more likely to say yes to certain things, and will approach that parent first, then parlay any positive response into something that might persuade the second parent. Or, if both parents say no, kids will try a grandparent (the ultimate stakeholders) or an aunt or uncle if they can -- ideally one who will make an emotional, rather than a rational, decision. "Okay, you can take your bath after the movie instead." In business deals, you too need to try to find the person most likely to benefit from your deal, and start there. All of this requires knowledge of the other side and of their real interests. What we may call manipulative is just knowing how to use the difference between positions and interests. Example: "I know my TV time is up but this show is about nature, Dad, isn't it good for me to learn this?"

Childish Tactics to Avoid:

  • Pretending not to hear or understand. This is the ignoring tactic my kids use every day. It's an avoidance tactic, not a negotiating one, and it will not help you get what you want. If you have that impulse, recognize what it probably is: a need for clarification, for more time or for control of the timing in the negotiation process, and proceed from there.
  • Throwing tantrums or crying. Though there are arguments for occasionally using tantrums as a tactic, it is part of a competitive, rather than a collaborative negotiation strategy. In general such behavior alienates and ultimately loses business. Kids don't have to worry (too much) about what they'll lose from a tantrum, because the relationship with their caregivers is (hopefully) guaranteed.
  • Pretending to be sick -- just one of many ways kids have of playing on parents' sympathies and concerns, and not likely to be useful to a negotiator who wants to make more than one deal. It may work within your office to gain your boss' sympathy and concern, but not otherwise.

When I first became a parent, a final lesson from my mother: "Thomas, as a parent your goal is talk to your kids so they will listen. And listen to your kids so they will talk.

Negotiating Tip

Contrary to popular belief, 9 out of 10 times you will benefit greatly by making the first offer.


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