In late Feb. ’07 the Edmonton Oilers ice hockey team dealt away one of their top players,
Apparently, and I have no inside information (I read http://chuqui.typepad.com/two_for_elbowing/), Meehan and team G.M. Kevin Lowe were talking right up to the trade deadline, and were about $300K apart out of $5 million a year on a five-year deal. (Imagine the airborne testosterone.) Who is going to blink first? Meehan supposedly did not think
Doing that, he ticked off fans but also scared every player negotiating with him for several years, until the memory fades. He probably pays a lot less for the player he gets for
I am not going to second guess what should have happened in the emotional last 30 minutes. I am instead going to talk about how difficult it is to bargain when you insist on inching along the line that separates the two parties on price, each making small concessions.
Bargaining experts suggest you get “off the line.” Here’s what I mean—and from here I allow myself a bit of fiction, since I don’t know the facts about this hockey player. Maybe the length of the contract could also have been put in play. Depending on his age and injury history,
Meehan, the agent, might have offered to do a four-year deal, but with a guaranteed fifth year if
Or there could be bonuses each year for goals scored, or opponent goals blocked (or major opposing players sent home on medical leave—maybe not).
The point is that it is no longer a pure blinking contest. When there are continuing relations between the negotiators, no one really wins a blinking contest. It makes everything a personal contest, with the players as pawns. Better to get into shared problem solving. (Better, also, not to bargain in the last 30 minutes, but humans tend to procrastinate, including me.)
Bargaining ‘off the line’ is an example of what negotiation pros call moving from the personal to problem solving—treating the situation as a problem both sides want solved, and working together despite different interests to satisfy the both interests as well as possible. It’s a lot less stressful than horse-trading and gets better results.