Ron Shapiro

Negotiation and Its Effect on Brand: An Interview with Ron Shapiro

Many have heard the name Ron Shapiro. A world-renown expert in negotiation, Mr. Shapiro is a distinguished graduate of the Harvard Law School. He has negotiated agreements in the corporate, government and nonprofit sectors. He has successfully represented many of the world’s greatest athletes, including Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Eddy Murray, Jim Palmer and Joe Mauer. And his books have appeared on the best-seller lists of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Business Week magazine.

Recently, we had the privilege of chatting with Mr. Shapiro about the impact negotiation can have on brand – organizational brand as well as personal brand. These are his comments.

MarketPoint: Is there a link between negotiation style and brand?

Shapiro: Absolutely. So much of brand is relationships, and anything that damages your relationships damages your brand. People who take a win-lose approach to negotiations not only end up with lose-lose deals, they end up with damaged relationships, which can spread virally.

MarketPoint: If Win-Lose negotiation is potentially damaging to reputations, why do you think the public continues to be so fascinated with people like Donald Trump, and why are these people so successful?

Well, “public” is a word you’d have to define. If you look only at the segment of the public that is easily enamored with unusual philosophies or with celebrity status, then you will have a public that finds Donald Trump fascinating. But if you define “public” as the people who affect his business enterprise, then you find a very different perception of the Trump brand. Just look at what was happening to Trump before he landed his Apprentice shows. He had casinos on the brink of bankruptcy and unsuccessful real estate projects bearing his name, and he was blaming other people for those failures. The Donald is not a problem-free guy. So for the segment of the population that finds Trump fascinating, with his shenanigans, and his win-lose philosophy, and his celebrity status, he has brand – but it’s not going to be a long-lived brand, and it’s going to provide a narrow bandwidth of public support. In the age of celebrity, you can find support for anyone – even Lindsey Lohan’s father, who is developing his brand by trading on his own daughter – but that’s not a strong brand, it’s a segmented brand.

MarketPoint: From a brand standpoint, what types of issues are not negotiable?

Shapiro: I always tell people you can’t negotiate your integrity – that’s a “non-give-up.” Any ethical position is a non-give-up. You can compromise on money and on what you get in return, but not on your ethics. When you’ve been around as long as I’ve been, you see people who rise to the top meteorically, and you say, “Wow, they’ve got a great brand,” but then you see them slip because they’ve compromised their ethics or their integrity, and that’s not a brand legacy anyone wants. That said, we all make mistakes. But the strength of our brand has to be able to withstand those mistakes, and that strength stems from integrity.

MarketPoint: From time to time, we all have to deal with difficult people. You use the word “NICE” as an acronym for your four-step approach to handling difficult people. Let me see if I have this right: Neutralize your emotions; Identify why they are the way they are; Control the encounter, and End without escalating. How does this approach help to build brand for the negotiator, personally or organizationally?

Shapiro: Sooner or later, you’re going to run into people who provoke you, and how you handle those encounters will have a big impact on where you end up – both in the marketplace and in terms of your brand. Neutralizing your emotions is all about taking control of yourself, so you can be proactive and not reactive. It’s important not to take things personally and it’s important not to get personal. It’s not worth losing the negotiation or damaging your brand by responding to someone who is trying to provoke that. So if you can maintain calm and then practice the other three steps, you’ve done nothing to negate your position or to damage your brand. But if you lose control, there’s ultimately going to be a blow-up, and it won’t be good for you or your brand.

MarketPoint: One of the concepts you articulate in your work is just seven words long, yet it resonates profoundly, from a brand standpoint. You say, “When you feel provoked, don’t be provoked.” What is the key to avoiding provocation?

Shapiro: Preparation is at the heart of not being provoked. If you can think through things in advance, you are more likely to maintain control. Of course, there are things you can’t control; you can’t control the other party, or outside events like interest rates, or world events, or the economy, but you can always control yourself, and the best way to maintain control is to prepare. Compromise preparation and you compromise control. I’m reminded of the American writer Ambrose Bierce, who said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

MarketPoint: So, if NICE is the formula for handling difficult people, let me ask you, can organizations be “too NICE”?

Shapiro: Not in this respect. When I wrote The Power of Nice and Bullies Tyrants and Impossible People and Dare to Prepare, I wrote about being systematic. If you can empower yourself with a systematic approach to negotiations and people, and seek win-win deals, then you’ll understand that win-win is not “wimp-wimp.” It’s about negotiating so everyone wins – especially you. And that happens when you are aware of what everyone wants. Ultimately, the best way to get what you want is to help other people get what they want.

MarketPoint: You often talk about the importance of listening, citing bad listening practices, such as poor eye contact, flirting with distractions, allowing interruptions, giving irrelevant responses and poor body language. Clearly, these behaviors could have a detrimental effect on negotiations. Do they have broader implications for brand?

Shapiro: We’re particularly prone to distraction in this age of technology and multi-tasking. But good listening is imperative to building brand. It not only provides valuable information about what people need and want, but it validates people. When you fail to listen to a customer or to a vendor or to the marketplace, people sense that, and ultimately you lose respect, and you lose relationships, and you damage your reputation.

MarketPoint: You seem to have found a balance in your life, between success and giving back. For example, I know you have been very active with nonprofit organizations, even serving as chairman of several organizations. Coincidentally, we have a lot of nonprofit clients. So let me ask this for their benefit. From your perspective, what sort of negotiations do nonprofits find themselves in, and how might errors in handling those types of negotiations affect their brand?

Shapiro: I’ve chaired over 25 boards of nonprofits in virtually every sector of the nonprofit world, and I often hear “What does negotiation have to do with our world?” But negotiation is a critical part of a nonprofit’s work – from raising money, or securing grants, or hiring people, or motivating staff, to gaining buy-in from your board, or building community support. Your brand is affected by the way you build deals – and not just for the people you’re dealing with, but for everyone they talk to and everyone who hears their story. And if your brand is damaged, your ability to make change will be rendered ineffective.

MarketPoint: What about educational organizations. Can you give us an example of the kinds of negotiations educational institutions, like colleges or professional schools, might face that might have an effect on their brand?

Shapiro: Negotiations occur virtually everywhere and the Education space is no exception. They occur between faculty and department chairs, between advancement offices and donors, between college recruiters and prospective students, and in everyday campus life. Educational institutions need to maintain a brand-positive reputation if they hope to fulfill their mission, serve their constituents and be effective in their communities.

MarketPoint: If you could leave our readers with one last word – with just one piece of advice about brand – what would it be?

Shapiro: You may have a great product or a great service, you may believe in yourself and your organization, but your ultimate success will come from a great brand. And to build that brand, you need to pay attention to your relationships. And if you think you can sit back and rest on your laurels, I would encourage you with the words of Harry Truman: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”