“Show me the money!” is the popular refrain from the movie “Jerry McGuire,” but how would your boss react if you said such a thing? The woman who is known as the “female Jerry McGuire” says she has the negotiation tips you need to get what you want on the job – and a special message for women.
Molly Fletcher spent nearly 20 years as a female sports agent, handling famous professionals like baseball’s John Smoltz and football’s Joe Theismann. She has overcome stereotyping and criticism as she fought for and achieved deals for more than 300 clients. She’s learned the art of negotiation in the rough-and-tumble world of professional players and coaches and recently talked with Anita Bruzzese about lessons learned and why the secret is treating the deal like “a conversation, a relationship, a rhythm built over time.”
Anita Bruzzese: You’ve negotiated contracts for people like Joe Theismann, Bobby Cox and Doc Rivers. What are some lessons you learned from negotiating in such male-dominated sports?
Molly Fletcher: To be authentic. You develop a reputation based on the way you negotiate and how you approach the conversation. Negotiating in that type of high-pressure environment certainly taught me a lot and shaped my 5-step approach which I share in my book, “A Winner’s Guide to Negotiating.”
AB: Which is what?
MF: You have to be prepared, find a way to connect, know your stuff and remember it’s a long-term relationship. It’s also important that you be able to embrace the pause, not take anything personally and learn from your mistakes.
AB: What part did being a woman play in your negotiating tactics?
MF: It wasn’t something I consciously thought about entering a negotiation. There were certainly a few occasions where I was reminded of my gender, but I never tried to be someone or something that I wasn’t. In my experience, I maybe had less room for error, especially early on in a relationship because I was the only female in the room. I learned to always have something up my sleeve and I was very observant. You don’t always have to hit someone over the head to show them that you belong. Sometimes it’s just a subtle comment or piece of information you weave into the conversation that commands respect.
AB: It’s been said that men are better negotiators than women. Do you find this to be true?
MF: One of the things I emphasize in the book is that negotiation isn’t a trait that you are born with. Anyone can learn to be an effective negotiator with practice. That is where you see the gender difference. It’s not that men are born with a negotiation “gene.” Men, for a variety of social and institutional reasons, feel more welcomed at the negotiating table. They initiate negotiations about four times as often as women do. They do it more often, and as a result, get better at the skill. It’s my goal to make women a much greater part of that conversation. I want women to feel comfortable negotiating and to be able to ask with confidence for what they want.
AB: What are some common mistakes you believe women make when negotiating?
MF: The biggest one is not even making “the ask.” About 20% of women, according to a recent survey, say they don’t negotiate at all. To generalize, women are often afraid of making the ask, especially when there is ambiguity or gray area. They worry about damaging the relationship, being perceived negatively by their peers or hearing no. Women also sometimes feel pressured to adopt a negotiation style that’s not them. I’ve never seen that be successful.
AB: What are some common mistakes that everyone makes, whether male or female?
MF: Lack of preparation seems basic, but many people don’t do a good enough job of combining the hard data with 360-degree awareness. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and it’s especially true in negotiation. Also know what’s not on the table. We might recognize monetary value, but what else matters and what else is potentially available?
And finally, most people don’t take the time to build a relationship with the other side. They approach negotiation as an adversarial battle where the winner takes all, instead of as a productive conversation.
AB: What was one of the toughest negotiations you’ve ever been involved in, and how did you react?
MF: The toughest negotiations are when there isn’t a “better option” or choice was incredibly limited and the other party potentially knows it. Not having leverage is a tough position to be in during a negotiation. You have to be able to use every possible resource you can to create leverage for yourself. That’s when you have to be really creative but also realistic.
AB: How do you know it’s time to be satisfied with what you’ve achieved in negotiations and not press it too far?
MF: You have to get as clear as you can before the process even gets started. Negotiations can be emotional, they can be draining and they can take on a life of their own if you let them. You have to really prepare and be clear on what you want before you even start the conversation. Ask yourself: At what point am I comfortable walking away? What does success look like?
Keep yourself in check and know what’s fair. Recognize that this is hopefully a relationship and a conversation that will continue. It’s important to not put yourself in a position where you can’t go back to the relationship because you’ve overleveraged a situation at the expense of the relationships. Anticipate what might happen if you do over-negotiate.
I would see this a lot in sports, where an athlete would command the highest salary possible, but then seemingly be blindsided by the pressure and expectations that came with it.
AB: Is there anything that isn’t negotiable?
MF: Of course there are boundaries, but it’s an important question to ask. If we start to think that way, we see more opportunities. The reality is, we negotiate every day in our lives, whether we realize it or not. When we fail to recognize that an opportunity to negotiate even exists – that’s when sometimes we really miss out.