How Michael Jordan’s Mom Personified the Art of Feminine Negotiation

I finally watched Air last night. While the movie was ostensibly about Nike’s recruitment of Michael Jordan and the pro athlete endorsement game, I found the negotiation theme even more interesting. And while there were many gems about the art of negotiation, it was Jordan’s mother, Deloris, who was the real negotiating star. 

I was particularly chuffed to see that Deloris Jordan’s successful approach reflected the principles of my Art of Feminine Negotiation™ models. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Deloris Jordan personified the Art of Feminine Negotiation. 

We don’t see Jordan’s mom in the early stages of the movie. We just hear about her through other characters. One message is clear and consistent: she’s the one who runs the show; she’s the one who needs to be convinced. 

Our first introduction to Deloris is when Matt Damon’s character, Sonny (the Nike recruiter) shows up unannounced at the Jordan’s house. And sure enough, the message that she’s the negotiating spokesperson is reinforced when Jordan’s dad immediately steps back and defers to Deloris when she steps out of the house. 

Let me take a moment to touch on the relationship of Jordan’s parents and how it spoke to me. We don’t see much of the relationship in the storyline, yet the subtleties of their interactions spoke volumes. I often say that all of life is a negotiation. Negotiating our intimate relationships is no exception. 

The depiction of Jordan’s father, engaged and engaging yet consistently stepping aside with a smile to give way to his wife, spoke loudly to the powerful relationship they had negotiated. At no point did he portray any sense of emasculation. Quite the contrary, his knowing smile as he stepped back to watch her take on the industry giants reflected quiet pride and confidence … in her, and in them as an unshakable team. 

Turning to the Art of Feminine Negotiation, one model in the system is the A.R.E. F.I.T.™ model. It reflects the six key skillsets required to be an exceptional negotiator: 

  • Assertiveness

  • Rapport-building 

  • Empathy

  • Flexibility 

  • Intuition 

  • Trust 

Deloris Jordan brought all these skills to bear in representing her son. 

She was assertive (but note she was not aggressive – these two terms are often mistakenly conflated). Contrary to popular belief, assertiveness does not require chest-beating or tough-guy approaches. Assertiveness comes from confidence. Confidence comes from knowledge. Knowledge comes from preparation. Deloris knew her stuff. She was prepared. She had clarity about the value they brought to the table, the options available and what they wanted.  She was firm, yet also showed sensitivity and openness. It was a powerful combination. 

Deloris built rapport and brought empathy to the table. She was intentional about considering what the other party wanted and needed. She invoked curiosity and asked powerful questions (both to draw the other party in and to elicit valuable information). We saw this play out beautifully in her first meeting with Sonny. The power dynamic was set right out of the gate, but not in a way where she sought to seek power over Sonny (or Nike), but rather, opening the door for a relationship of power with each other. 

While she was firm and had clarity about her desired outcomes, she also showed flexibility. Nike was a non-starter for her and her son at the outset. She made no bones about the fact that they were considered a hard ‘no’. Yet, she sat down with Sonny when he showed up uninvited and contrary to all proper protocols. She listened openly and carefully, and given the potential new information she’d been provided, she took a risk to set the meeting with Nike. 

Some of that flexibility came from her preparation, analysis, and concrete information, but it struck me that much of her decision-making also relied on intuition. She trusted her intuition. Her approach also built trust with those she dealt with. They knew she said what she meant and meant what she said. 

It’s also worth noting that part of her preparation involved knowing her BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement). She knew who her alternative pursuers were and what each prospect was willing to offer. She appreciated that Nike knew it was the underdog in this scenario, and that she had other equal or better offers on the table. She was able to leverage Nike’s stronger need and desire to get an unprecedented ‘piece of the action’ which would have profound positive ongoing benefits for her son. 

Interestingly, Matt Damon’s character, Sonny, is credited with changing the face of endorsement compensation for pro athletes, but in fact, it seemed clear to me that it was Deloris Jordan who spear-headed that shift. She achieved this through superior negotiation prowess. Because she didn’t approach the negotiations from a place of ego, her hardline position was actually seen as a benefit to the other party and so she achieved full buy-in while having the other party view it as a huge win for themselves. 

That ability to get true win-win creative solutions, pushing both parties to think outside the box, ensures best outcomes for all. It is an artform and it lies at the heart of the Art of Feminine Negotiation™.  


Are you looking to up level your negotiation skills?

Please enjoy my TEDx Ocala talk
- Rise of the Feminine Voice as the Key to Our Future-  

rise of the feminine voice cindy watson tedx ocala

Click to play

How to Get What You Want from the Boardroom to the Bedroom

Negotiation skills are a woman’s secret weapon.

Art of Feminine Negotiation debunks myths and multi-generational gender conditioning that have stopped women from fully stepping into their power. Uncover the unconscious biases that have limited women from becoming the biggest and best versions of themselves. 


Learn the key skillsets that mark superior negotiators, explore how women already possess these skills in spades, and master how to start invoking these essential skills with intention in everyday life.


A.R.E. F.I.T, Deloris Jordan, Michael Jordan, Women and the Art of Negotiation

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