The Power of a Compliment

You’re in first place, but you just lost Masahiro Tanaka. He was the only pitcher standing holding your staff above water. It’s time to make a trade.

Many of you are faced with a similar scenario. Or perhaps it’s time for you to sell your win-now talent for win-later goodies. Whatever the situation, a working relationship with your trade partners can make a big difference in smoothing over negotiations.

Too many times, owners negotiate from their high horse. I’m guilty of this too. I’ve done some bit of analysis that says Corey Dickerson is a 120 wRC+ player RoS. I want to acquire him because my eyes say he could easily outperform my analysis. However, I pride myself on taking a rational approach, so I’m not willing to pay more than I would for a 120 wRC+ outfielder. Guess what – my trade offer is declined. It turns out my rival wants to sell Dickerson as a full time 160 wRC+ outfielder. We exchange some words, not all of them couth.

For whatever reason, baseball analysis has become heavily entwined with snark. I think this might have something to do with my generation’s sense of humor. However, snarky retorts only sabotage your ability to consummate good, quick trades. When you do hammer out a deal after a month of negotiating, you’re left with that much less production from your target. More importantly, you leave the door open for other owners to swoop in and either raise the price of your target or short circuit the deal altogether.

Before falling into fantasy writing full time, I spent a couple years as a software salesman. My job was to sell tens of thousands of dollars of reporting software to suspicious enterprises. Usually, we never met – we just talked over the phone and by email. I think I met three of my customers. I learned the value of two things, compliments and holding myself aloof of the competition.

The minimum a good salesman must do is establish him or herself as above the muck. We should be able to have a candid conversation about our shortcomings. We can employ illusion and misdirection, but it’s important that it’s not sensed. The point is to establish trust between two parties. Trust is usually the difference between a short and a long negotiation.

The human psyche is pretty easy to manipulate – not that you need to do so cynically. A subtle compliment can go a long way towards establishing trust. The compliment should be genuine and you shouldn’t fawn. “Hey, you’re a smart dude, now give me these guys” doesn’t really work. Too obvious. Neither does “oh my god, you’re an unmatched fantasy genius gifted with radiant charisma.” Too cloying. Here’s an example of what does work.

I recently agreed to a trade that took about a month to negotiate start to finish (with frequent pauses). We each matched up on a needs basis; the match was strong enough to compel us back to the table time after time. Where we didn’t agree was on player valuation. It was a keeper league and I discount keeper value more heavily than most fantasy owners. And I was the one buying the future talent. Somewhere in the middle of the process, my rival said something to the effect of “it’s clear you understand exactly what’s most valuable in this league, that’s why it’s so hard to reach an agreement.”

I felt pretty good about myself. We all like validation from our peers. And I realized his little compliment changed my disposition to our negotiations. I put more time into finding some common ground in our negotiation. I put some other trade talks on the back burner. None of this was entirely conscious, I just felt more confident dealing with that particular owner. I only realized upon reflection that the turning point was a compliment. And then I thought about my sales experiences, and it all clicked into place.

So be nice and compliment your rivals when they make a smart move. Develop trust and happy feelings. They’ll serve you well in the long run.

Alternatively, don’t be a dick.



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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, RotoWorld, and Rotoballer. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.


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Will Hannon
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Will Hannon

*Compliment

Will Hannon
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Will Hannon

Sorry for the correction! But yes, this and also when you think a trade offer is ridiculous, just say no and thank you for the offer rather than constructing 10 reasons why the trade was awful. I find that that tactic also brings them back to offer other trades, possibly because they know the response won’t be cold or angry.

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