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Ron Shapiro, Negotiation Guru

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From civil right lawyer to a negotiator sought after by Major League Baseball players and famous television personalities, Ron Shapiro has conducted trainings and seminars that have helped half a million people become better negotiators


How did you make the transition from practicing law to becoming a negotiator for Major League Baseball players?

As Maryland’s Securities Commissioner, I was forced to negotiate because I was a staff of one. I had to learn how to negotiate because I could not possibly litigate everything that came in front of me — although I let people think I would. As a result of my background in business law and securities law, the Baltimore Orioles baseball team asked me to help Brooks Robinson — now a Hall of Famer — with serious financial difficulties. After I successfully represented Brooks, he asked me to negotiate his last baseball contract. I did. Then all of a sudden other players were asking me to do the same for them. Then I set up, separate from my law firm, a sports agency which negotiated contracts and managed finances, initially, for Major League Baseball players and then subsequently for broadcast television personalities.

What are some of the lessons you learned as a young lawyer?

I represented Oprah Winfrey early in her career. After a period of time, she signed with another agent and someone in my office said that we had to collect our fee. I retained an attorney and told him to go ahead and do whatever he wanted. I forgot an essential part of negotiations: relationships. We collected our money but I damaged the relationship with Oprah. Now, I’m sure if I had picked up the phone and resolved the matter with her directly, that relationship could have been maintained. You make mistakes along the way. To be a teacher you have to be willing to be vulnerable and not be a know–it–all. It only enhances people’s desire to hear how you corrected the situation.

I have had numerous satisfying experiences as a negotiator, from negotiating contracts for the likes of Cal Ripken, Jr. to settling a symphony orchestra strike and resolving a racial conflict in a major police department. Using your knowledge and creativity to negotiate an end to housing discrimination — now that’s enjoyable.

Do you have a negotiation philosophy?

What has evolved over time and really is embodied in my book, The Power of Nice, and in the seminars I teach is a simple philosophy: in order to get what I want or what my client wants, I’m going to help the other side get what it wants. And effective negotiation is a process and not an event.

Ron’s next book, Dare to Prepare: How to Win Before You Begin, will be published in January.
Interview with Ron Shapiro conducted by Natalie Holder–Winfield of the Committee on Career Advancement and Management