The Game Continues, Everyone Loses
Negotiating is thirsty work

Posted May 6, 2003


In Greek myth, a muse was one of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, presumably beautiful and inspiring. In a weird twist of fate, I have discovered that my muse is generally an annoying headline from the newspapers. The Gods look down and laugh. If I'm annoyed, I generally write about it, and nothing annoys faster than public contract negotiations.

 

In the early 1990s, during my most impressionable days as part of a massive force of consultants, I worked on a gigantic simulation model that supposedly allowed big companies to view and tinker with complex business processes. It modelled the flow of money and material from vendors to warehouses, to more warehouses, to factories, to more warehouses, to stores, and then to customers. Wonderful.

While it was cool in a geeky sort of way, I always struggled to believe that the program could model real-world events even remotely accurately. This concern of mine wasn't that important, of course, since the model's primary purpose was to serve as a flashy way to extract consulting fees. It did that extremely well, so the project was a success.

I'm still not sure any computer program can simulate business because most assume there are things called "facts" involved in business. Unfortunately this runs counter to a fundamental truth that I have discovered.

FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #1: In America, 95% of business negotiations begin with both parties lying through their teeth like bandits.

If a seller says "I can't sell it for less than this", he's very possibly lying. If a buyer says that "I can't buy it for more than this", that's probably a lie as well. Being civilized people, call tend to call it "negotiating", but it's mostly just a game where both sides lie until they both get sick of it and decide that they had better do something or they're all going to get fired.

Understanding this, I can explain why I'm such an easy mark for aggressive salesmen: I get bored and annoyed with the game really, really quick and just give up.

This notion, namely that of being bored and annoyed, brings me to the Cleveland Browns story of the day, the continuing (and very public) negotiations between Carmen Policy and Jamir Miller's agent, Leigh Steinberg.

After watching this unfold over the last year, and upon thoughtful reflection of on my own experience pushing expensive consulting services, I have developed a corollary to the fundamental truth of business stated above:

COROLLARY #1 TO FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #1: The probability of either side in a negotiation lying is inversely proportional to the amount of useful stuff that side creates.

In this particular case, we have Carmen Policy, a lawyer and the front office executive for part of an effective sports monopoly, negotiating with Leigh Steinberg, an agent representing dramatically overpaid athletes.

I would conjecture that neither side is the least bit likely to create anything useful. If you ask Carmen to make you a sandwich, it is my belief that he will simply not do it and will tell you to make your own damn sandwich. If you go into his office and ask him to build you a car, the chances of security getting called are pretty darn high. I conjecture that Leigh Steinberg is unlikely to be able to fix that rip in your pants or make a chair you can sit on.

Therefore, I will conclude that the probability they are "leveraging the truth" in this negotiation to be as high as death, taxes, meandering webmaster commentaries and other unfortunate inevitabilities of life.

And I, for one, am bored with it.

Let's dig down past the silliness to the bottom of this, shall we?

On one side, we have the Cleveland Browns, who have cut or given away every linebacker who has started for them in the last two years. This list includes such talents as Dwayne Rudd, Earl Holmes, Jamir Miller, Darren Hambrick, and the immortal Wali Rainer. The team is currently offering up the fervent hope that a collection of youngsters can line up behind the Browns under-achieving "Bankers Row" defensive line and suddenly present the stopping power required to shut down the increasingly high-powered offenses of the AFC North.

Yeah, right. Pull the other one. The Cleveland Browns need Jamir Miller.

On the other, we have Leigh Steinberg, representing Miller, who offers that the paltry $1.7 million contract (which could increase significantly with incentives) could be insufficient for Miller to bother playing football anymore.

With no other teams interested, a post-football career beckons.  Presumably, Steven Spielberg may call any minute now with the starring role in "Punisher: The Story of a Good, But Not Truly Great, Outside Linebacker". Perhaps, the CEO of American Airlines will call with a lucrative offer for Jamir to step in and save the flagging air transportation industry. Retirement from at age 29 to pursue other endeavors makes perfect sense.

Sure. Whatever. Try that on someone else. Jamir Miller needs the Cleveland Browns.

Here's a public plea for both sides to stop this nonsense before everyone winds up looking even sillier.

Carmen: Toss Jamir a bone (those are things found in meat that dogs chew on, strictly a metaphor) such as a slightly higher bonus or another hundred grand or whatever. Give him enough to allow him to save face and for Leigh Steinberg to be able to pretend he fleeced you good. You won, don't rub it in.

Jamir: Take it and don't ask questions. Get out there and play. If you do well enough, you can grab even more cash next year and you can make cutting remarks pointed at your old bosses on your way to greener pastures.

This is all very simple. Leigh and Carmen have done their respective jobs, and now it's time to hang it up and move on to tormenting other people and finding other things to talk about in the press.

If I could fire both of you, I would threaten to do so now.

Instead, I will hold folks hostage with a threat of a column even more meandering and demeaning to all involved than this one. Unless you get this done, I will write it and publish..

I'll do it, I swear. I'm not kidding.

No lie.

- AB


Bernies Insiders webmaster and producer-of-nothing-remotely-useful Arthur Bietz is currently trying to re-organize his 127,297 saved emails into some semblance of order. When he's done, he will return to his in-box and respond with his usual incomprehensibility to with the usual comments, insults, threats of emotional blackmail, or drunken asides.

 


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