Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Negotiation Tip #7: Barry Bonds' Biceps,
Brad Reed & Marvin Miller  

One of the 20th century's most successful negotiators in any field was baseball's Marvin Miller. The man who created an effective (close to undefeated in head-to-head competition) baseball players' association, is a lawyer who built upon his strong aptitude at research and division of labor with a passion for achievement, then topped it with an ability to play out strings of consequences and a knack for innovation to create, and to some degree control, change.

One of the aptitude clusters that enabled him to be more than just a visionary (dime-a-dozen) and actually render change in a deliberate, channeled way, was his extraordinarily fine ability to negotiate. I've written about negotiation a number of times here; I believe it's one of the essential tools for almost any management position, so I won't blather on that subject again (if you want background on why its essential, use the Google search blivet in the top left corner of the MBB home page and search for "negotiation").

Because baseball is such an open book relative to other enterprises, the way negotiators use tools is on as full display as you'll ever see them. One of the tools in Miller's kit became obvious lately, thanks to insightful reader Brad Reed.

Back on January 26, I wrote about Marvin Miller's comments on the baseball-in-steroids scandal. Miller pointed out there was no evidence whatsoever that bulkier players, steroids or no, were more effective or better players, and also that while Bonds looked bulkier than he was as a young player, that's a normal pattern for athletic men as they age and he made Babe Ruth (unarguably pre-steroids) the case in point. I support both Miller's contentions, and most of the mail I got disagreed, missed the points and argued others.

The elegant and valuable exception was the message from Reed that pointed out one of the essential tactics of successful negotiation: Selecting the facts that support your conclusions while concurrently knowing the other, opposing, facts. Miller has mastered this, as Reed points out, and if you're ever going to be a great neogtiator, you'll need to be adequate at this, too.

Brad Reed's note (abridged):

Though I agree wholeheartedly with the point of your posting on January 26, 2005, I think there's something that should be added.

Marvin Miller's assertions are a creative use of cherry-picking facts.

By pairing the sight of Barry Bonds at twenty-one versus forty-one, Miller makes Bonds's gain in bulk seem wholly natural. Hey, Cal Ripken was a reed-thin whip when he arrived, and left the game a beefy man. Happens all the time, even among non-athletes. But here's the shifty part: Bonds's increase in weight came in his late thirties. Natural "filling out" occurs in a man's early twenties.

Until recently, Bonds was a thin figure. Bonds at twenty-one and Bonds at thirty-one weren't that different in stature. Even when lifting weights conscientiously, a man in his late thirties cannot produce the rapid increase in bulk that Bonds demonstrated without chemical assistance.

Miller has to know this. Yet he obscured this fact by using a wide data set (twenty years) rather than the relevant data set (seven years or so) when making his point.{SNIP} I think it important to point out Miller's rhetorical trick.

It is important. Though I would call it the second half of a technique rather than a trick.

In any negotiation outside one's own family, one needs first to line up the facts on both sides and weigh them, examine them before the actual negotiation.If you only do the second part, cherry-pick your supporting facts, you've not done half the job, you've done, effectively, none of it. You won't be in a position to know your antagonist's side of the equation. If you aren't prepared to negotiate her side as well, you have put yourself at a disadvantage when she counters because you won't have turned over in your hands the strengths and weaknesses of that constellation of arguments. Like always swinging at the first pitch, you never give yourself a chance to maneuver the conversation where it benefits you.

Marvin Miller always understood his antagonists' arguments at least as well as they did themselves, sometimes even better. I suggest strongly, if you haven't already read Miller's autobiographical history of the time he played point for the players' union, A Whole Different Ballgame, it's fascinating reading and great support for one's negotiation education as well as other necessary management tools.

One of my favorite parts of this tool is it's easy to practice both halves of it, like a simulation. You can take incidents from your own organization or baseball, and research both sides of the facts, organize them, guess which ones will emerge in the dialogue, prepare both sides. If you shadow in-process ones within your organization you're not involved in directly, you can watch the events play out and correct or improve your abilities. Then, when the real thing comes up, you'll have had practice at the techniques. For some people, this simulation would fall into the category of "fun" (hey, it's more fun than rotisserie baseball, and a lot more useful).

But you have to practice both halves. Too many of our fellowww-passengers on the 'net are lost in their own side, either refusing to see the countering facts or pretending to not see them, and neither is a becoming trait in any humanoid over the age of three.

My sole disagreement with Reed is on the bulk of the weight gain for most athletic men being in the early twenties. Not that that doesn't happen often (and may be the general case), but across the wider population, genetic makeup accounts for a decent variance (if you're in your late 30s or older, think of the men you went to college with and how they've changed over time. That Endy Chavez-bodied guy at 20 who turned Full Metal Matt Stairs at 28 after he got married or waxed Jabba The John Kruk at 33 for no apparent reason are certainly present in the population).

But Reed knows the strengths and weakness of Miller's arguments. Which is more than I can say for Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Terence Moore, who definitely saw only one side or pretended to in his contention.

"I would not vote for any artificially inflated player - and that includes Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire," Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Terence Moore said. "If this is true, this is worse than the Black Sox scandal and then, you were only talking about a few players on one team. This affects everybody. You're hurting guys like the Mickey Mantles and the Babe Ruths and you're hurting people in the game now that are legitimate."

┬┐Would he have voted for Ruth, who had the advantage of playing his entire career with advantages contemporary players never had...such as the exclusion of a whole swath of athletes who were as good or better than the "caucasian" subset of men who were allowed to play the game and the intentional exclusion of men they called "colored" without consideration of skill/merit? Moore hasn't proved (that I can find anywhere) that supplements of any kind that McGwire and Bonds have taken affect performance, but he's cherry-picking players, supposition and facts to argue why he should segregate the Hall of Fame.

I've had some fun in negotiations before with half-ways like Moore. If they are really unprepared, you can take over the whole shebang, argue their side for them, say things like, "Well, you missed this lovely argument on your side, to which I suggest...". I don't suggest you ruin them in the terms of a negotiation, unless you never want to do business with them ever again. But you should walk away with every single reasonable thing you could.

I'd love to see a negotiation between Moore and Reed. Or Moore and Miller. Though it would be sort of like Bambi Meets Godzilla.

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