Shapiro's 'Nice': Talking power

September 06, 1998|By John Steadman | John Steadman,Sun staff

"The Power of Nice," by Ron Shapiro, Mark Jankowski and James Dale. John Wiley & Sons. 259 pages. $24.95.

It's a working, step-at-a-time walk-through of how to make a deal that reduces hardball negotiation to its most simplistic form of communication: a theme of "kill 'em with kindness." The grand and effective lesson plan put forth by Ron Shapiro and his associate, Mark Jankowski, offers an insight that applies logic, reason and persuasion - from the complex setting of the board room and multimillion-dollar transactions to boys trading bubble gum cards on a playground.

Restrain all attempts at using a hammer. Conversely, a soft word will do. Shapiro cites how he once cultivated a rapport with a baseball general manager by discovering they had a mutual interest in growing roses. It was a bridge to a relationship and an amicable business encounter.

The basis for Shapiro and Jankowski's philosophies, as described so deftly by writer James Dale, are remindful of what Dale Carnegie put down in his acclaimed "How to Win Friends and Influence People," published more than a half-century ago. Shapiro and Jankowski focus on the realism of the meeting, your place or ours, as they describe proven, well-polished techniques.

Shapiro, an attorney, is labeled a sports agent, but his portfolio is far more diversified than that. His earlier alliance as a representative of Brooks Robinson and then Cal Ripken Jr., Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Kirby Puckett, among others, as a broker of athletic talent, has provided a pronounced visibility. But if any kind of a deal is pending, then Shapiro and Jankowski are at the ready.

In the book, he offers an inside look at his negotiations with Orioles' owners Edward Bennett Williams and now Peter Angelos, of general managers Hank Peters and Larry Lucchino. He gives scant mention of the testing scenario involving play-by-play announcer Jon Miller and mentions how the acrimony of the parting caused him to wonder if it would endanger upcoming contract proposals between his star client, Ripken, and Angelos. But, throwing an off-speed pitch, he let Ripken meet with Angelos over lunches and dinners while he got off the stage. Result: a solution that led to a satisfying conclusion.

He says "the best negotiators aren't smooth talkers; they're good listeners." Shapiro's working tools are alliterative: Preparation, Probing (to find out what the other side wants before even addressing the issues) and Proposing. It's difficult to comprehend how any agent, in a given situation, could be any better prepared. Yet he doesn't get his way all the time and painfully recalls losing Oprah Winfrey as a client; also of being unable to sell his house to a friend. On the plus side was the victory in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra strike in 1982 and hundreds of varied contract negotiations both in and out of sports.

Every undertaking is a learning experience, even for one seasoned in the competitive, high stakes game he plays. To be a winner, he insists, it's not necessary to throw the book at them. Simply "be nice."

John Steadman has been a columnist for The Sun for 12 years; before that sports editor of the Baltimore News American for 28 years. Earlier, he was a football executive and a minor league baseball player. He has written 6 books on sports.

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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