Most women you see on an NFL Sunday are sidelined in cheerleading uniforms.
But behind the scenes – and in the front offices – of many NFL organizations are powerful women leaders who know how to negotiate with the best of them.
While there are just about 64 women in NFL offices carrying executive titles (of the 300 or so top leaders), they aren’t sidelined at the negotiation table.
And you might imagine in an industry that’s male-dominated like no other, being a woman in leadership can be a challenge. But these women leaders from the NFL have succeeded, especially in negotiating.
You can try their six tips on successful negotiations.
Find your style
“Negotiations are most effective when you learn what style works for you,” says Amy Trask, former CEO of the Oakland Raiders and author of You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League.
Colleagues, bosses and mentors may tell you how to negotiate – as did the Raiders owner, who told Trask to do it “like a Russian” with bold and forceful words and gestures – but it’s best to do what’s comfortable for you. That may be an empathetic, a win-win or even a “Russian” approach.
Know where you sit
Affectionately nicknamed “The Princess of Darkness” by fans because of her team’s dark reputation and her mental toughness, Trask found that a detail as small as setting the right stage for negotiations can make a difference in the outcome.
She suggests you avoid sitting across the desk from your counterpart. If you want to strike an agreeable deal, even up. Sit side-by-side to send a message of collaboration, not domination.
Consider the long-term goals
Many negotiation situations make leaders only focus on the goal at hand. Katherine “Katie” Blackburn, Executive Vice President of the Cincinnati Bengals, suggests keeping the long-term goals in mind when you negotiate.
“I believe in stepping back and looking at the steps and decisions we are making to make sure we are not doing something that will just be beneficial this year, but will work for years to come,” she says in an online interview.
Go in prepared and a little skeptical
You can’t have all the answers when you enter negotiations. If you claim you know how everything will turn out – and it doesn’t turn out that way – you risk hearing later, “told you so.” Then it might be held against you in the next negotiation.
Case in point: Charlotte Jones Anderson, now Dallas Cowboys Executive VP and Chief Brand Officer, wanted to expand the Thanksgiving Day football game halftime show in 1997 and took her idea to TV executives.
She was prepared: She had one of the biggest music stars ready to headline the show. She suggested adding a charitable angle, helping raise funds for an organization that universally helped people in need. TV executives liked the idea, but threatened to pull the plug on her show if the audience didn’t respond.
She admitted she felt prepared, but a little reserved about the outcome, “I didn’t want to tell anybody, but I don’t know that I knew what I was doing.”
That skepticism compelled her and everyone else in the production to work harder, pay close attention to details and overcome obstacles. The show was a success, and she had built solid ground to work from for future negotiations.
Shore it up
Once you’ve entered negotiations, and recognize what’s important to each party, line up your goals and compare objectives. When you collaborate, rather than go head-to-head with conflicting ideas, it’s easier to strike an agreement.
“We have far more in common than we otherwise realize,” Trask has said. “Gamesmanship is not as productive as aligning interests and seeing where you match.”
Manage your reputation
You don’t have to negotiate the same way every time you come to the table, but you want to be authentic every time, says Molly Fletcher, a rare female sports agent who handles many NFL contracts.
“You develop a reputation based on the way you negotiate and how you approach the conversation,” Fletcher has said.
- Find a way to connect personally and professionally quickly
- Approach the conversation as just one in a long-term relationship, and
- Know your stuff because women tend to have less room for error in a male-dominated industry.
You may never have to negotiate with or for football professionals. But any woman in leadership can take these tactics from NFL female executives and get the job done well.