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Show me the money! How to negotiate like a sports agent

For two decades, I honed my negotiating skills in the high stakes, big ego arena of professional sports. The sports-agent industry is an extremely competitive one. There are actually more agents than athletes to represent, which means every deal matters. Negotiating countless contracts and endorsement deals taught me a powerful lesson: effective negotiation is just a conversation, a relationship built over time.

My experiences negotiating on behalf of athletes, coaches and broadcasters became the basis for "A Winner's Guide to Negotiating: How Conversation Gets Deals Done," and these five tools will give you a mini guide for becoming a better negotiator in minutes:

Molly Fletcher
Source: Catrina Maxwell | CatMax Photography
Molly Fletcher

1. Set the stage. Negotiating success begins by acquiring great knowledge. Collect as much data about what is at stake and the person or organization that controls what you want. The data you collect allow you to seamlessly navigate the natural ebbs and flows inside of a negotiation. The data should include the quantitative (the market and your comparables) AND the qualitative, which I refer to as 360-degree awareness. What are the fears and desires of the other side? The stakes? The possible outcomes? The more you know going into a negotiation, the more you can establish authority and respect.

2. Find common ground. Negotiation doesn't have to be adversarial. Trust is at the heart of long-term success as a negotiator so it's important to take time to build a relationship with the other side. Even small gestures — like sharing a little piece of personal information — change the dynamic of a negotiation by signaling your openness and desire for connection. Counter disconnects with curiosity instead of defensiveness. In a world that views negotiation as a battlefield, that subtle shift can be powerful. The key to negotiating is managing relationships well so that conversations stay open and spark more conversations. The seeds of your next negotiation are planted in the one you are doing right now.

3. Ask with confidence. Overcome fear of negotiating by anchoring your ask against your "why." What is driving your ask? For example, if you are asking for a raise — in what tangible ways will that raise impact your life and the lives of those around you? Knowing your why will allow you to tap into your motivation when negotiation gets messy and uncertain. And, if you have set the stage and found common ground, the ask should be expected. Talk as much as you need to, but no more. The more concise you can make your ask, the more confident you will be.


4. Embrace the pause. More often than not, no matter how well the negotiations are going, there will be a point when you reach some sort of stalemate. You might be just short of a breakthrough but the sides haven't been able to reach mutually agreeable deal points. Now is the time to embrace the pause. Embracing the pause may look like doing nothing, but in reality it is one of the most effective negotiating strategies. The pause sends a powerful message, projecting confidence in your position. It can also serve to create anticipation and possibilities, which are key to negotiating the best deal. A pause also enables you to re-gain perspective by pulling back out of the emotion and intensity of a negotiation. Pausing allows you to listen, and when you listen, you learn.

5. Know when to leave. While you work your way toward a deal, simultaneously create choices so that leaving is an option. Recognize the red flags that signal your exit from the deal. Going forward is not always a risk worth taking. That can be discouraging when you have invested time and energy into getting a deal done, but remember that a deal isn't necessarily better than no deal. A successful negotiation will end with a result that is better than your best alternative.


These five tools are part of every negotiation. Hone them until they become instinctive and you have the confidence to use them well. You'll find you are able to shift uncomfortable negotiations into productive conversations.

Whether you are haggling over your cable bill or a multi-million-dollar contract, you are engaged in a critical conversation.The more comfortable you are with the conversation, the better off you will be with the results. Remember, you only get out of life what you have the courage to ask for.

Commentary by Molly Fletcher, a former sports agent whose nickname is "the female Jerry Maguire." Fletcher has negotiated over $500 million in deals during her career as a sports agent. She is a popular motivational speaker and the author of three books, most recently "A Winner's Guide to Negotiating: How Conversation Gets Deals Done." Follow her on Twitter @MollyFletcher.