Negotiating Using Three Lessons from Pro Sports

Most organizations continue being under increasing pressure to produce results and build lasting relationships. Additionally, the ability to negotiate successfully in today’s turbulent business climate can make the difference between success and failure.

Michael Blackstone is a former executive director of basketball operations for an NBA franchise. He joined the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, bringing with him a background in working with sports teams’ front offices to help them improve their negotiation strategies and processes.

Blackstone, now a partner at Work Unfiltered, said that his experience with the Cavaliers has taught him quite a few things in negotiation that can be translated into the not sports-related business world. 


Lesson #1: Too much emphasis on winning

Blackstone said that there is a lot of focus put on who wins the press conference when teams are negotiating trades.

“People spend far too much time wanting to win the deal, versus focusing on getting what they want out of it,” said Blackstone, who came on board as the salary cap administrator just a few months after star forward LeBron James bolted from Cleveland for the Miami Heat in 2010. “As long as you maximize your interest and get what you want, does it really matter who wins?”

Lesson #2: Failing to prepare is failing to fail

Blackstone also emphasized that businesses need to be prepared at all times if they wish to be successful.

“The number one reason people give for not preparing is time,” he said. “But in reality, time is the scapegoat. In our society of instant gratification, preparation is work. The truth is that people don’t want to do the work required to prepare. They’d rather wing it and hope for the best.”

He added that preparation is the most important part of the entire process — and the only part under one’s control.

“Those who are best prepared are the best negotiators,” he said. “It is important to emphasize a systematic approach to preparation that is effective for any negotiation. Because we’re creatures of habit, if you are successful using specific methods, they will become ingrained and likely save you time preparing for future deals.”

Lesson #3: Establishing a walk-away point

People often tend to leave a negotiation without establishing a walk-away point. Blackstone said the way to combat this is by establishing a bottom line — a certain dollar amount, for example. Otherwise, one may be subject to what is known as a “deal fever.”

“The closer you get to a deal getting done, the less likely you are to walk away – even if the deal doesn’t make sense,” he said. “On the other hand, if you take the time to decide on a walk-away point and even go as far as to write it down prior to the meeting, you’re more inclined to stick to it, or at least take time to evaluate the deal, before settling by saying yes to something less than what they want.”