Dealmaker touts a nice strategy

Want to be a good negotiator?

Then drop the ruthless, tough-guy act and try being nice.

That's Ron Shapiro's advice.

A little surprising coming from a lawyer and sports agent who's wheeled and dealed on behalf of some of baseball's biggest names, including Cal Ripken Jr. and Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson.

But Mr. Shapiro is a believer that good negotiating doesn't mean waging war.

He's written a new book on the topic called, appropriately, "The Power of Nice" (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95).

Part of the problem, he says, is that we've been conditioned to believe we have to do battle to cut a good deal. "Movies, television, and newspapers don't depict nice-guy negotiations," Shapiro contends.

Shapiro throws out the old notion of "I win, and you lose."

Rather to get what you want, you have to let the other side get what they want - not everything, but something.

And that doesn't mean caving in.

"The power of nice isn't built on the concept of win-win," meaning equal deals, said Shapiro in a recent interview in Los Angeles. "You just don't give in to people in order to be nice."

You're still always looking for the best deal, he says. But the key, is to build lasting relationships that lead to more deals.

Shapiro has developed a three-step process - prepare, probe, and propose - that can be applied to virtually any situation from negotiating a raise to pulling off a corporate merger.

Here's what they each mean:

Prepare. Accumulate as much information about those on other side as possible. Support your position and their position, as well as your alternatives and theirs.

Set your highest goal - what you would love to have happen - and your lowest or "walkaway."

Probe. Ask questions and listen.

"The biggest mistakes people make are that they don't adequately prepare and they don't listen effectively," Shapiro says.

He recommends four steps during the probing process:

• Find out why the other party has chosen a particular position.

• Ask hypothetical questions. This is a nonthreatening way to keep the conversation going.

• Answer questions with questions.

• Tally up what you know and what you don't know, and then ask more questions.

Propose. Try to get those on the other side to go first when you start to negotiate. But whether you go first or they do, always aim high. If, for example, you want a $1,000 raise, ask for $1,200.

Shapiro co-wrote "The Power of Nice" with his law partner, Mark Jankowski. Together they run Shapiro Negotiations Institute in Baltimore.

A few other tips:

• Never accept an offer immediately, Shapiro says - no matter how good it sounds.

The other side might think they blew the deal and look for a way out. "You don't want to create buyer's remorse," he cautions.

• Know when not to make a deal. Sometimes, he cautions, the best deal is no deal. But remember, walk away with a positive relationship - you never know when the deal might be reopened.

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