Sitting Down With Sharon Sudduth

Jeff Cochran


We recently spoke with one of the longest tenured employees at Shapiro Negotiations Institute, Sharon Sudduth.  She shared with us some of the changes SNI has undergone over the years as well as a new initiative she has been involved with.

How long have you been at SNI and how is the company different now than when you first arrived?

I have been at SNI since 1999 so 13 years.  I don’t think our goals or mission is different, but we’re a lot more organized.
We have a greater focus which allows us to give more attention to the clients.  Some of this is because we have a lot more processes in place than when I first came on board.  Technology has also become huge.  We use emails, servers, and clouds on a regular basis.  It’s really streamlined our day-to-day operations.

You take on a lot of different responsibilities around the office.  Can you explain what roles you have?

I manage the administrative duties, the finances, H&R, and IT.  I wear a lot of hats but it’s a small office so that’s to be expected.

What is the best part of your job and what’s the most frustrating?

The best part is that I have my fingers in everything.  Since I’m involved in so many parts of the company, I know what’s going on at all times.  At the same time, the most frustrating part is that I know what’s going on at all times.  Sometimes I see people doing things differently than I would do them, but I have to let them do it their way because I have so many other tasks to take care of.

SNI’s been able to get new business from a number of their service providers.  How has this happened and how have you been involved?

This was something we started last year.  We decided that we want to engage our service providers in mutually beneficial partnerships.  I had a bank approach me to ask for our business.  I explained the concept we were trying to implement and as a result we were able to engage in a partnership.  That led us to do about 20 programs with them last year and a few more this year. This year we are budgeting to get new copiers.  We want to get them from a company that we can partner with.  We have been in talks with one company and so far it has gone well.

Listening With Our E.A.R.

Jeff Cochran


When a person is under pressure or in a difficult situation, their emotions can start to get the best of them.  Even the best solution to their problem may be missed because they are so caught up in the situation.  The best way to deal with this situation is to downshift emotions as much as possible so that positive progress is possible.  To do this you need to use your E.A.R.  It will help defuse some of the emotions so a solution to the problem can be found.

Empathize: Let the other person know that you recognize that he or she is under emotional stress or pressure and that you’ve been in similarly difficult situations.

Ask: Take the time to ask a couple of nonthreatening questions to gain valuable information and to let the other person vent his or her emotions

Reassure: Let the other person know that you believe, in time or with remedies, the situation will defuse and/or improve.

Follow this simple acronym and you will be ready to overcome the emotional obstacles of others.

Interview with Mark Jankowski

Jeff Cochran


Mark Jankowski Co-Founded the Shapiro Negotiations Institute in 1995. He has been an invaluable asset to the organization over the last 17 years, but he will soon be moving on to pursue other endeavors.  A couple days ago we were able to talk to Mark about his time at SNI.

How would you describe your 17 years at SNI?

Absolutely life changing.  I recall when we started the business in my apartment in 1995.  My kitchen table was my office and the second bathroom was our storage closet!  I never would have known then that I would be fortunate enough to co-author two books, teach on five continents, and work with tens of thousands of participants.  More importantly, I have worked with incredible people at SNI.  Ron Shapiro has been a mentor, partner, and guide throughout my years here.  Todd Lenhart has for many long stretches carried the entire business on his back.  Jeff Cochran is the most incredible facilitator I have ever encountered.  I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I know that as I depart SNI, it is in great hands and extremely well positioned for future growth.

What was the vision when you started SNI and do you think that vision has been met?

Our first business cards had the following quote:  “Helping individuals and organizations reach their full potential through The Power of Nice.”  Over the years, we have had many participants come back to us and tell us that not only did our programs help them do their job better, but it helped them live their lives better.  I recall one instance where a participant told us that he was concerned that his son did not want to go to college and that no matter what was said to the son, he simply refused to budge.  Two weeks after taking our course, he e-mailed to let us know that he used our negotiations approach with his son to convince him to go to college.  Other participants attributed leaps in their career paths to what they learned in our programs.  Our vision was never about revenue or building equity so that we could sell the business.  That is not to say that we are not proud of how much the business has grown over the last 17 years, but from the very start Ron set the vision that if you help the people with whom you touch, the business will take care of itself.  I think that the last 17 years are a tribute to that vision.

What has been one of your most memorable moments with the organization?

As with many things, my most memorable moment, and most illuminating for that matter, was at the time one of my greatest failures.  Ever since we started the business, people encouraged us to move beyond focusing on just negotiations training.  They told us that if we offered things like leadership training or team building, we could increase revenue by selling more products to our existing clients.  Ron and I always resisted, knowing that we did not have the level of expertise in those areas to deliver the type of top shelf product that we offer through negotiations training.  However one client begged us to do a team building retreat for them. I violated our ‘stick to your knitting’ mantra, and agreed to give it a go.  It was a total disaster.  We held it at Ron’s farm.  We tried to do a row boat race, and the boats sank. Our campfires almost burned down the fields, and 98 degree temperatures made the entire day almost unbearable!  Ron later told me that we created so much chaos at his farm that the migratory geese stopped visiting!  It was then and there that I decided that we would stick to delivering training focused on Sales, Negotiation, and Influencing, and to stay away from other topics in which we did not possess adequate expertise.  All in all, our strategy has served us extremely well.  And to give you a sense of “the rest of the story”…  Several years later I ran into one of the participants in that team building session and I offered an apology for the “less than adequate session.”  She looked back at me stunned and said, “That was one of the best team building events we ever had!  People have talked about the chaos and hilarity for years.  It really did give us an experience that bonded us all together.  As a matter of fact, my new company is looking to do a teambuilding session and I was wondering if you would do it!”  We respectfully declined.  The geese had returned to Ron’s farm and I did not want to risk chasing them away again.

What do you plan on doing in the future?

Several years ago I started to focus on the technology side of the training business.  I have four kids at home and my wife is in a wheelchair and going on the road to do live training simply became impossible.  I decided then to try to find a way to be able to continue to meet our initial vision, but to do so in a way that used technology such as 3D virtual worlds, iPads, Webinars and the like.  It has been a great challenge as it is very difficult to translate a live training experience into an online format.  Of course I do love a good challenge, and I decided to devote my full time and effort to developing ways for both corporations as well as schools to “harness the potential of teaching through technology in order to reach their fullest potential.” (Sound familiar?)

Ron Shapiro On MLB’s Spring Training

Jeff Cochran


Our chairman, Ron Shapiro, recently traveled to Arizona and Florida to check in on some of his clients during Major League Baseball’s Spring Training.  While he did catch a few innings, most of his time was spent building and strengthening relationships.  It just goes to show that the game is important, but the relationships made outside the lines are just as, if not more, valuable.  Taking the emphasis on relationships that has worked so well as a sports agent into the business world has led Ron to become a change agent.

How many Spring Trainings have you been to and how does this most recent trip compare to your first?

I’ve been going since 1975, so almost 40 years.  My most recent trip was much shorter than my first trip because Shapiro Negotiations Institute takes up more of my time.  I also used to spend most of Spring Training in Florida because that’s where the majority of facilities were. Now, many teams train in Arizona so I spend about half of my time out there.  Another difference is it’s become a lot less personal now in the sense that the new stadiums and facilities put a greater distance between the players and the fans.  The older facilities allowed for a more personal feel.

What was the purpose of your trip?

I see players and club officials and spend time with them to learn what’s on their minds.  I actually see relatively few innings of baseball games.  If I watch 2-3 innings of a game that’s a lot.  The purpose of my trips isn’t about seeing games, but connecting with people.  I take the things we preach at Shapiro Negotiations Institute, like building relationships, and apply them.

Do a lot of other agents do the same thing you do at Spring Training?

It’s always been the case for agents to meet with clients during Spring Training.  It’s a relatively low pressure environment and allows for higher time availability for players.  It’s not the game-to-game grind of the regular season.  Players only play in parts of games so they are much freer, which is great because it allows for more 1 on 1 time.

Do you have any memorable stories from this or any other Spring Training?

I’m in baseball because I love the people involved in the sport.  This is the time when I get the best opportunity to engage with these individuals.  Meeting with great people and families, like the Mauers, Ripkens, and Pucketts, is a wonderful experience.

One memory that stands out was being able to step in to hit a few pitches.  I love the feeling of a wooden bat hitting a leather covered baseball.  When they were kind and threw the ball up to me…it went well.  When they showed me their stuff…it didn’t go so well.

The Last Baltimore Orioles World Series Title

Jeff Cochran


The power of relationships can’t be overlooked.  If you want to do business more than once, relationships make all the difference.  Of course you can be a hit-and-run negotiator by making one deal with somebody that squeezes them for all their worth, but then they will never want to come back and make another deal.  If you make WIN-win negotiations and build bonds, great things can happen in the future.

With baseball’s Opening Day beginning tomorrow, we thought it would be a good idea to share a story about the hometown Orioles and their last World Series championship.  Hopefully they’ll be able to bring another championship back to Baltimore in the near future.

The following is an excerpt from the book “The Power of NICE” by Ron Shapiro, Mark Jankowski, and Jim Dale.  Ron’s story shows how special relationships and bonds between players and management in 1979 helped the Baltimore Orioles win the World Series four years later.

The Orioles fell one game short of winning the World Series in 1979.  It was a team that had all the makings of a World Series winner, if the players could be kept together.  But keeping a team of that caliber together during the dawning of free agency was a real challenge.  Hometown heroes were leaving daily for big bucks in other markets.  It so happened, in the rarest of situations, I represented 15 members of that team.  We had negotiated very hard for every one of them, but we and our clients, also tried to understand the other side, the team.

So, when it came time to renegotiate contracts, how many of the players opted to leave Baltimore for greener pastures?  How many did the Orioles decide just weren’t worth the price?  None.  Eddie Murray, Ken Singleton, Rich Dauer, Scott McGregor, Doug DeCinces, Rick Dempsey, Dennis Martinez, among others, all stayed.  They each achieved WIN-win.  They stayed with the team and in the town they wanted and got paid market or near-market value.  That was, and is, unprecedented in modern sports.  It wasn’t because one side caved into the other.  It was because bonds had been made, relationships had been built and deals had been made that lead to more deals.

In 1983, the heart of the team was there and that team won the World Series.  It was a long-term dividend of the Power of Nice.

Bekah Interview on Training Conference and Expo 2012

Jeff Cochran


We recently had one of our colleagues, Bekah Martindale, travel down to Atlanta, Georgia for the Training Conference and Expo 2012.  She was nice enough to sit down with us to talk about her experience.

As the newest member of the SNI team, can you talk about what your role is and what your experiences have been like so far?

I started about 9 months ago and have been mostly involved in the logistics for our training programs and supporting the marketing team.  At SNI, it seems everyone tends to wear “multiple hats”, and because of that I’ve been able to get experience in a variety of areas.  Our team works well because everyone respects and encourages each other throughout the day and we’re always able to collaborate on different projects and ideas in order to get the best results.

What exactly is the Training Conference and Expo?

Training Magazine organizes the Training Conference and Expo every year to bring together professionals in training, learning, and performance industries for education and networking purposes.  The expo is a way many different organizations can showcase their company and develop relationships with professionals from organizations in need of the products or services they offer.

What were some of the main topics discussed and presented at the Training Conference and Expo?

SNI’s Mark Jankowski, along with Ann Marie Sidman from Gen Re, spoke on how they have been able to incorporate 3D Virtual Worlds into a corporate training environment.  Another colleague, Jeff Cochran, led a breakout session and did a short 3 hour intro to our core negotiations training program- The Power of Nice.

I heard this was your first trade show.  What was your first impression?

There was a lot going on! Training Magazine did a good job packing the conference full of education and networking events while simultaneously running the expo presentations.

What was your typical day like while you were down there?

Andres and I mostly worked the expo part of the tradeshow so we were at SNI’s booth from around 12 pm to 5 pm on Monday and Tuesday.  We met and engaged people with various interests and backgrounds.

You coordinate a lot of things for our facilitators who were speaking at the conference.  What’s the best and worst part of that job?

Personally, I love to travel so it’s fun for me to help coordinate details for SNI.  Our facilitators are great so that helps make it interesting and enjoyable to be involved planning their trips.  I would say the most challenging part of the job is the stress involved working with the numerous moving parts that come up when planning travel with numerous clients worldwide.  I have to make sure all the pieces are lined up and running without a hitch.

Describe your experience at the Training Expo in 3 words.

Hands-on, Interactive, Engaging.

Besides yourself, who was the most interesting or entertaining person you saw at the Training Expo?

Some of the presenters go to great lengths to get the attention of the attendees passing by, and there were some characters there this year for sure. There was one group near our booth, I believe from the Drum Café, that had their team members playing djembe drums.  Another group, dressed in gym clothes with QR codes on the back of their shirts, ran through the expo hall the entire time.

We heard there was some chatter about your book shelf display.  Can you talk about why it was interesting and what inspired it?

During a brainstorming session before the event, we had the idea to showcase some of our big clients with merchandise that represented their brand, such as a Sherwin Williams paint can or a Baltimore Ravens jersey. The shelf not only helped grab people’s attention, but also showed the versatility of our content; it can apply to many different industries where we’ve gained expertise. We had a number of people ask questions about it, take pictures, and overall I think we had a good response because we tried something different. It intrigued people enough to initiate a conversation with us.

Do you have any tips you can offer to somebody about to go to their first training conference?

I think it’s important to be creative and engaging while you’re there. There is a lot going on and all the attendees are getting a lot of information thrown at them from all directions, so you want to stand out and leave an impression.

The Big L

Jeff Cochran


An article by Cynthia Crossen from The Wall Street Journal a few years back reported that, “Most people speak at a rate of 120 to 150 words a minute, but the human brain can easily process more than 500 words a minute, leaving plenty of time for mental fidgeting.”  Herein lays one of the great obstacles to effective listening.  We have the biological capability to listen to everything, yet we often miss a lot of information because we get bored or disinterested.

In a negotiation, the last thing you want to do is lose out on information.  Everything the other side says is potentially valuable to help you make a deal.  Let the other side talk as much as they want.  Listen between the lines to what is said and what is omitted.  Listen for nuance and emotion.  Listen with your eyes to see their mannerisms and comfort level with each topic.  All the material you need to make the deal is there, it’s just up to you to gather it.

When it is your time to speak, make what you say count.  Don’t feel obligated to match the amount of time they spoke for.  Say what you need to frame the issues and keep moving forward on the key issues of the negotiation.  The less you say, the more others will remember.

Think of it this way: the best negotiators aren’t only smooth talkers, they’re smooth listeners too.

To read the article from the Wall Street Journal by Cynthia Crossen entitled “From Talk Shows to Offices, America Lacks Good Listeners”, click here

Andres Lares and the 2012 MIT Sports Analytics Conference

Jeff Cochran


A few days ago we were lucky enough to sit down with our Market Analyst/Deal Coach, Andres Lares, who attended the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference a couple weeks back.  We asked him a few questions about his time up in the great state of Massachusetts.

Market Analyst/Deal Coach is a pretty broad title.  What kind of work do you do at SNI on a day-to-day basis?

I am split between three major responsibilities.  My job as Deal Coach stems from becoming so ingrained in our clients’ operations that we are often asked to provide consultation for our clients’ real live deals.  It is unbelievable how much of an impact a trusted, objective party can have on the outcomes of these negotiations.

I also work within our Sports Practice, where we train and consult with teams across the four major sports.  We assist business departments with sponsorships, tv/media, suites, and season ticket sales and help front offices negotiate player contracts and trades.  We often also advise on strategic planning and other issues– because we work with teams across the various sports, we’re aware of the best practices across the industry, which is additional value-add for our clients.

Finally, I am responsible for developing SNI’s brand, which is all about highly customized and engaging negotiations, sales, and influence training and consulting that provides organizations with a proven return on investment.  It’s an interesting responsibility because once we get in front of people our service sells itself.  The difficulty is just getting our foot in the door and being found with all the noise in the market place.

Can you tell us a little about SNI’s Sports Practice?

The Sports Practice is all about taking SNI’s systematic approach that has worked so well across industries and implementing it in sports.  Most of our engagements in the sports industry include some training up front and then extensive deal coaching thereafter.  It’s interesting because at first teams are extremely hesitant to work with an outside group because of confidentiality, but it does not take long before we have a visible impact on their operations/bottom line and that rapidly accelerates the relationship and improves the partnership’s effectiveness.

Tell us about the role of analytics when developing negotiation strategies for teams/player representation?

We tend to focus less on the analytics and more so on using a systematic approach to help them throughout the negotiation.  We firmly believe that the same amount of resources should be spent planning, preparing, and scripting as is used in the collection of data and its analysis.

How many MIT Sports Analytics Conferences have you been to? How did this one compare to the others?

I’ve been going since the original conference, which I’m fairly certain means I’ve been to 6.  It’s funny, thinking back how a couple of years ago there were only a few hundred people in a basement.  Now it’s become a huge event that takes up a
significant portion of Boston’s convention center.  Of course there are pros and cons to the change in size.  It has lost some of the intimate feel due to the increase in size, but this has also allowed the scope to grow, which is great.  It’s really become a huge event with great speakers.  The group has done a tremendous job.

Who were some of your favorite speakers at the conference?

One of my favorites was Gary Bettman.  He was part of an impressive panel in the morning.  The Toronto Maple Leaf’s President, Brian Burke, was interesting and, as always, hilarious.  Since he’s no longer tied to a team, Eric Mangini was particularly open and candid, which was great.  Of course, we can’t forget Ron Shapiro.  He was a star.

I heard this conference was full of sports nerds anxiously waiting with their calculators.  How would you describe most of the people there?

Now that it’s so big, it’s actually become pretty diverse.  The conference even has added a commercialized trade show.  It has everyone from the actuary trying to break into the sports industry to team executives trying to get a sense of what’s out there and how to stay on top of new trends.

Can you tell us a little bit about how Ron’s session went?

We were very pleased with the attendance and participation.  It was exciting to receive lots of follow-ups requesting check lists or more information.  I think this was a direct result of Twitter’s high activity during the conference.  Thank you to everyone that attended!

Did you meet anyone interesting at the conference?

The presence of English Premier League soccer teams, such as Manchester City and Fulham, and German Bundesliga team, Hamburg, were exciting.  They are impressive organizations because they always feel like they are behind and trying to catch up to North American sports, but in many ways I think they are more advanced.  They are humble, intelligent guys that are always looking for ways to stay ahead.

A Quick Guide to Links, Connections, and Common Interests

Jeff Cochran


One of the best ways to make a deal—and keep making future deals—is to create a relationship with the other side.  If you can find a connection that goes beyond just business you can make better deals now and in the future.  These connections, however, have to be real.  A fake connection can be seen a mile away and will ultimately get you in trouble.  Take a look at the following list to make real connections that can build relationships.


Environment and Style

Desk—The comfort zone.  Everything there is important.  Souvenirs, kid-stuff, photos, company mottos, mission statements.

Cars—Alter ego. Fast, plush, safe, exotic, functional.

Clothes—The style of the person.  Aggressive, conservative, neat, messy, severe, natural.

Speech—Audio clues.  Sports metaphors.  Literature or movie references. War analogies.  Name-dropping.  Place-dropping.

Recreational Links

Sports (Spectator)—Mementos, souvenirs, autographs.

Sports (Participatory)—Trophies, framed scorecards, golf or running shoes on floor, clubs, racquets, rods in corner, bandages, limps.

Hobbies—Spare time.  Collecting anything.  Stamps, coins, antiques, toys, books.  Hunting, fishing, diving, photography, golf, gardening, reading, movies, travel.

Pets—Dogs, cats, birds, fish, horses.  For fun, for show.

Human Connections

Families—The obvious connection, often the best.

Children—The big connection.  Babies and late night feedings, adolescents and acne, teenagers and driving, college kids and tuitions, married and having babies.

Friends—Who knows who you might have in common.

Heroes—Mentors, influences.

Culture Links

Art, Music, Theater, Dance

Civic Activities

Boards, charities, causes, politics—(be careful).


Ethnic Heritage—Never underestimate the power of a shamrock.  Handle with diplomacy.

Ailments—Bad backs, allergies, pulled muscles.

Jokes—Some people collect them.

Alma Mater—Grade school, prep school, college, grad school, military, fraternity, sorority, Rotary, Kiwanis, Elks, Scouts.