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Don’t Underestimate the “Power of Why” in Negotiation

May 5, 2015 • Uncategorized

There is a saying I heard one time, that “you lose your way when you lose your why.” When our why is our anchor, our path becomes clearer and our decisions easier. I can think of no better example of this than my friend Ernie Johnson, Jr. Most of you know him as “EJ,” the host of NBA on TNT’s pre-game show, but his story is so much more than that. His TNT colleague Charles Barkley put it best, calling him a man of “uncommon courage and a pure heart.”

For 15 years as a sports agent, I negotiated contracts for a lot of athletes, coaches and broadcasters. None was easier to negotiate on behalf of than Ernie Johnson, Jr. Here’s an excerpt from A Winner’s Guide to Negotiating that shows the power of anchoring negotiations against our “why.”

The inner baseline

The relationship with EJ points out another aspect of Setting the Stage: as I try to find the baseline for my client’s value, I’m also looking to understand the values inside him or her. I want to know what beyond money or status—the obvious elements—will make my client at the very least satisfied. More than that, I want him or her to be blown away. Grasping these values gives us more choices, and more choices always create a better platform for negotiation.

I know what a good salary does for EJ. When I meet him for lunch, his severely disabled son Michael joins us. Michael uses a wheelchair, and a good salary for EJ means Michael uses a great wheelchair. EJ is great at what he does, and what is at stake for him is taking care of his family, and the wheelchair is a big part of that. Each week EJ goes to the grocery store and always stops to buy a bouquet for Cheryl (his wife), and always buys an extra bouquet. As he leaves the store, he looks for the right stranger to give those flowers to. Who knows how many regular folks have been blessed by EJ’s flowers? There’s no telling, but these bouquets bring him so much joy. As his agent, I look for these details. These are part of his inner baseline. Take away his ability to get the wheelchair or buy the flowers—which granted, may not be a lot in terms of dollars—and his life has a lot less joy.

As I do my homework and Set the Stage for negotiating, I want to know as much as I can about the side I am representing. I want to know what makes up my client’s inner baseline. I have my own inner baseline too. Because EJ’s values align so closely with my own, I love being a part of his negotiations. Ensuring a fair salary and compensation for him is fun for me. I know he’s not going to go sideways for a couple extra thousand dollars. Sure, I can help a client who I know is going to spend his paycheck on strip clubs and fancy purses, but I have a greater heart for EJ and the clients whose drive is to do well in the world. When he wins the John Wooden Keys to Life Award, given to individuals who live out faith, integrity and character, I’m beyond thrilled. His professional platform is all about him being a great role model in life. I know that his heart is not about the money but the message, and we stayed clear on that from the front end and consistent throughout the contract negotiation.

Your Game Changer Takeaway

Anchor your asks in life against your why. Negotiation is often a long process, filled with doubt and uncertainty. We have to be able to tap into our motivation for why we are making the ask. What’s really driving it? If you can get clear on the why, you’ll find the courage to ask with confidence.

The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company’s Game Changer Negotiation Training workshops teach businesspeople the framework for successful negotiating, so that you can close more deals while building stronger relationships. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.