Is Powerlessness the Key to Successful Negotiation?

October 23, 2014 8:25 PM

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Leigh Steinberg, the real-life inspiration for the title character in the film Jerry Maguire, is one of the most successful agents in the history of American sports. He is also a master negotiator. It's said that when he signed quarterback Steve Bartkowski as his first client in 1975, he realized that the NFL rules allowed him no power to bargain over salary. The Atlanta Falcons had drafted his client, so if he was going to play pro ball, it was the Falcons or nothing. So what did Steinberg do? He offered Bartkowski's services to the Atlanta Falcons for a whopping $750,000--more than any football player had ever been paid. The outraged Falcons countered with an offer of $600,000, the most lucrative rookie contract in NFL history.

I'm borrowing this story from a team of psychological scientists, who believe they may have an explanation for Steinberg's seemingly irrational behavior and for its ironic success. Michael Schaerer and Roderick Swaab of INSEAD, in France, and Adam Galinsky of Columbia believe that powerlessness can ...

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