Liars of the Month: Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees
Negotiation is the soft underbelly of ethics. The process requires posturing, bluffing and puffery, which in most other contexts all fall into the category of lies. Behaviorists and mathematicians have shown that negotiation actually optimizes the results for negotiating parties beyond what rigid truthfulness could accomplish, so the greater good really is served by the stylized deception that negotiation requires. But to outsiders looking in, negotiation can be an ugly thing that encourages the cynical belief that lying is as natural as breathing in and out.
That is why professional negotiators ought to keep their dealings as private as possible, lest what is a negotiating posture to the other side send a message to the public that nobody means what they say any more. When Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees superstar, approached the decision of whether to opt out of the last two years of his 25 million dollar a year contract so that he could angle for a longer-term and richer deal on the open market, Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman released a statement saying that if he did that, the Yankees would not re-sign him, period.
He was bluffing.
During the World Series, Rodriguez's uber-agent, Scott Boras, announced that A-Rod was indeed opting out, not because he wanted more money, but because he was concerned about uncertainty in the future direction of the team.
He was posturing.
After Boras' announcement, Hank Steinbrenner, the team president, announced that since Rodriquez didn't want to be a Yankee, the team was through with him, for good.
He was faking.
Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees are now working out the details of a ten year contract worth about 27 million a year. That's all fine and dandy, and the I'm sure the verbal sparring of the parties helped get them to this point. But there was absolutely no need for their negotiation bluffs, feints and puffery (Boras at one point said that Rodriguez wouldn't even talk to the Yankees about less than a guaranteed 350 million dollar contract) to be made public. The more Americans see public figures lie without shame or negative consequences, the more culturally acceptable dishonesty becomes.
In the meeting room, the negotiating positions of Boras, Rodriguez, Cashman and the Yankees are just tactics. In the newspaper, websites and ESPN, they are lies.
There is not enough advantage to negotiating in public to justify the casual attitude towards lying that it creates. The tools of negotiation need to be kept out of the spotlight, where they do good, not harm.