Mark Warkentien on the Art of Negotiation

» July 10, 2009 5:06 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

The Nuggets VP of basketball operations spent a week studying at the Harvard Negotiation Institute. Warkentien shares 5 negotiating lessons learned in an article by Ian Thomson at

Before a GM sits down at the negotiating table, he needs to understand what the player’s agent is going to say. That understanding is crucial to negotiation.

“I got this from [Bob] Whitsitt,” Warkentien said of his former boss when Whitsitt was GM of the SuperSonics and later president of the Trail Blazers. `”What are they thinking at the other guy’s breakfast table? You sit there and spend all day thinking about why you’re right, why your position is just.”

The experts at Harvard crystallized that point of view. Instead of fine-tuning your own argument, predict the reasoning of your opponent. “And then find all of the commonalities,” Warkentien said. Because if you can find points of agreement, then you have a chance of pulling the opponent to your side of the table.

“They talked a lot about this,” he said. “They tell you to find the ‘predictable surprises’ — that was something new for me. Like when you’re in the negotiations and the other guy says something you never thought of and you don’t know how to respond.”

The best advocates hijack the opponent’s argument. “You’ve got to find out what the other guy’s interests are,” Warkentien said. “They teach you to ask a lot of questions. ‘I understand why you might want that, but I don’t understand why you would deserve it.’ Make him explain where he’s coming from and that may give you stuff to build your own argument.”

It’s worth reading the whole article. There’s plenty more. For instance, Warkentien shares how he was able to improve the relationship between George Karl and J.R. Smith by including certain incentives in Smith’s contract.

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