Negotiating Lessons From A Former NFL CEO

The NFL consists of 32 independent competing businesses, but when they negotiate, the focus is on collaboration.

Negotiating Lessons From A Former NFL CEO
[Photo: Flickr user Pete Sheffield]

Nicknamed the “Princess of Darkness,” Amy Trask became a master negotiator as she moved up the ranks at the Oakland Raiders, eventually becoming the NFL team’s CEO. Currently an analyst for CBS Sports, she found that the best deals are struck when you work from a place of collaboration.


“The structure of the NFL is 32 independent businesses that compete with one another in the absolute sense of the word on game day,” she says. “Those 32 businesses are each structured differently and managed differently. On game day, I wanted nothing more than to destroy the team we were playing, but right up until kickoff, productive business conversations focused on collaboration.”

Trask chronicles her experience as one of the most powerful women in football in her book You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League. She offers these four tips for getting what you want when you’re striking a deal:

1. Find An Authentic Style

Negotiations are most effective when you learn what style works for you, says Trask. While at the Raiders, Trask quickly realized that owner Al Davis considered those who negotiated for him as chess pieces to be deployed and maneuvered as he wished. At one point, Davis told Trask to negotiate like a Russian, suggesting she be bold and forceful, slam her hand on the table, and declare, “Nyet, nyet, nyet.” Trask, however, didn’t share this philosophy.

“Over the course of my career, I learned what was comfortable for me, and what was not,” she says. “The best advice I’ve ever received came from my mother. She told me, ‘To thine own self be true.’ I didn’t realize until I was almost out of college that the advice was really Shakespeare’s.”

2. Know Where To Sit

While it sounds like a minor detail, setting the negotiation stage is important. Instead of conducting the conversation from across a desk, consider another seating arrangement, suggests Trask.

“There is an expression in business that parties should sit across the table to negotiate, but I don’t think that’s an intelligent approach,” she says. “If the goal of two parties is to strike a deal, rather than sit across the proverbial table and negotiate, parties should sit side by side. It sends a message of collaboration.”


3. Go In Knowing What The Other Party Deems Important

To settle any deal, you have to know what’s most important to the other party, says Trask. “The goal is to reach an agreement,” she says. “If something was important to the other party, and that something meant nothing to me, concede the point. Tell them, ‘Have at it.’ Maybe something else will be important to me. I’d like them to let me have at that. Not everything in negotiation has to be a quid pro quo.”

Learn about the other person’s goals, and don’t be afraid to ask. “If parties are engaged in a discussion and the other person is discussing a point, ask, ‘Is this important to you?’ and ‘Why?’” Trask says. “The best deals are when each party walks away believing that it didn’t get all it wanted.”

4. Don’t Play Games

Once you know what is important to each other, line up your goals and compare objectives, says Trask.

“We may have far more in common than we otherwise realize,” she says. “Gamesmanship is not as productive as aligning interests and seeing where you match.”

Coming from a position of collaboration, it’s easier to strike an agreement together. “It’s just a smart way to do business, and it’s smart in other parts of life as well,” says Trask. “Not everything need be zero sum. It’s a waste of time and counterproductive to argue over concessions on issues that could thwart a deal.”