The Psychology of Dynasty Ownership, Session Seven: Trading

Jeremy Schwob

Session Seven: “The Psychology of Trading: Everything means something.”

“He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.” – Sigmund Freud

Much of the focus of the articles in this series has been on an internal analysis of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. While it is important to understand your own tendencies, it is just as important to track such tendencies in your opponents. As I did in my initial article of the series, I must pay homage to the DLF great, Leo Paciga (@Ciga_FF), for his work to initiate this psychological thought in the dynasty landscape. More specifically, he trailblazed this area by discussing his “notebook” for tracking the tendencies of your leaguemates. This can be extremely valuable information when you approach a trading interaction.

Psychologically, an understanding of interpersonal information and relationships are at the core of dynasty trading. In this analysis, we are trying to move from tracking the self and other, to understanding the self and other.

There have been numerous articles on various sites on the topic of trading, offering tips and tricks for success. We will be working a different angle here, digging into the psychology of what may be going on for both parties involved, and drawing on clinical concepts used in dynamic therapy for personality and interpersonal difficulties. Based on this analysis, we will learn some tactics to help you identify and utilize to your advantage the psychological aspects of dynasty negotiations.

Understanding the Self

Consider your own tactics in trading as a starting point for what has been effective. Have you relied on cold, yet realistic offers or have you reached out to begin a conversation? Has placing a player on the trade block either in the league or in a group chat led to receiving offers? What about a more general approach to seeking a certain type of asset characterized by position, age, draft pick, etc.?

What about the outcome of the trade? Do you need to feel like you won the trade? If so, through what lens are you viewing it (i.e., in terms of increased current or expected future “value” or production)? Do you use a trade calculator to arrive at an initial ballpark assessment, or do you use it for every single offer you send and receive? Do you look at other rosters to see if there are strengths or weaknesses?

Whatever you do, it is important to look not only at what has worked, but also to push yourself to truly understand why it may have worked in those particular instances.

It is also crucial to be honest with yourself about what has hindered your unsuccessful trade proposals or negotiations from coming to fruition, primarily focusing on what you contributed to the failure. Was it the particular player involved, or the time of season (e.g., Week 1, prior to the fantasy playoffs, pre-draft or post-draft) that was or wasn’t the right time?

To better understand decisions and tendencies of others, we can first try to analyze and understand why we ourselves might engage in such thoughts or actions. In dynamic therapy we attempt to consolidate someone’s self-concept and understanding of their interpersonal relationships. We explore individual’s motives and examine any insights into why they might be doing something. Frequently we encounter defenses as it is often uncomfortable, emotional, frustrating, or scary to be raw and honest with the self.

However, if you’ve made it this far in the article series, you have hopefully been challenged to continue pushing through the uneasiness to reach an understanding that we all have flaws. While we are imperfect, that doesn’t mean we can’t observe, understand, and change such faults. Let’s try to understand others, all the while continuing an ongoing pursuit of understanding ourselves.

Understanding Others

Trading provides us a fairly easy opportunity to track the communication and behaviors of leaguemates though there is much more difficulty understanding them. In negotiations, we have all encountered a variety of frustrations. These may include a variety of response patterns ranging from radio silence to significant delays that we may be able to interpret.

Response patterns

Unfortunately, we only have the information that is either provided to or gathered by us. For nonresponders, we have no idea whether the other person saw or was even considering the offer. These are instances where you simply don’t have enough information to draw conclusions. If, however, you continue collecting information over time (e.g., your leaguemate is nonresponsive to most of your offers but accepts one randomly), you may be able to make inferences going forward. In this case, the added “intel” suggests that perhaps ignoring offers is their way of saying they are not interested. Unfortunately, we still don’t have the requisite information to know whether they considered other offers at all, or how close they were to acceptance.

Examining the timing of rejections can also communicate some data when contextualized with their other behavior. While we may be frustrated by a delayed rejection, such as an “I’ll have to think on that one,” followed by a later rejection, we at least know this was somewhat tempting to them. Even when we do hear back in shorter durations, that doesn’t necessarily mean deals are facilitated.

We must then unpack the content of such responses, which have almost limitless possibilities. These may include: ridiculous offers or counteroffers, those downgrading our players or even the players they are specifically trying to acquire, those only looking at the upside, fixations on what players have done in recent weeks or the current season, the salesperson trying to convince you to take the deal, and so on.

Regarding those who send unreasonable offers and counteroffers, there may be a glimmer of hope in their mind that starting at such a low point has some shred of possibility that the deal could be accepted. At the very least, the initial low reference point makes it seem like negotiations have come a long way if they later begin to meet closer to reality. While the logic of that isn’t absurd in a vacuum, it doesn’t take long to realize that the utility of such a method is impractical and off-putting.

Finally, another frustrating instance is when there was potentially an opportunity for communication that never occurred with you. This may occur when we see a trade go through for which you could have offered a “better” return, in your opinion. However, you are unsure whether there was a conversation between two or more other leaguemates or it involved a cold offer.

While your opportunity to make that deal is gone, there are still productive measures that may be taken at this point. First, you can reach out to the owners to see if there was communication, while indicating that you would gladly discuss future deals since you would have been willing to pay more (again, at least in your mind). Concurrently, it may be valuable to contact the other leaguemate who you feel got a nice deal, sending an offer and see if they want to make a quick “profit.” Some may be too attached to the asset they just received, though others may strictly be drawn to the multiple rapid “value” gains.

So, what do we make of these instances? We should examine our emotional reactions and our degree of control arising from how we portray others.

Rigid or split self and other representations

The all too familiar instances described above should be understood in how they form our representations of others. We attempt to conceptualize relationships by generalizing our interactions with them, more heavily weighting emotionally charged moments. When there are difficulties in interpersonal relationships or interpersonal communication, unpacking these representations are another key aspect to discuss in dynamic therapy.

Across development, we form more mature representations of others. Underdeveloped representations of others are often fragile, such that it is difficult to view a full range of qualities of a person, especially during emotionally trying times. Such fragility creates a defensive structure called splitting where only one view of the other is held at a time. For example, someone that is important is viewed as “all bad” at times which prevents the individual from seeing any positive qualities about the person during an emotional state. Alternatively, this person may be viewed at other times as “all good,” which would make them infallible and unquestionable.

In many of the trading interactions previously mentioned, there are certainly aspects creating frustration that can be attributed to the other person. Many of these illustrations are cases that are out of our control. As is true in therapy, let’s focus on what aspects we can control. First and foremost, we can control our own reactions to any of these instances.

Emotionally, if our reaction is largely driven by a feeling of frustration, we should check ourselves to ensure we are not splitting. If we are splitting, we may assume every single offer we have sent to them (or ever sent) is strong and deserving of consideration by the other. While we may easily create “all bad” representations of others’ behaviors, we likely skew toward an infallible “all good” self.

Behaviorally, reacting aggressively or with animosity rarely provides any benefit in furthering trade discussions or future conversations. Making extreme statements like “I would never send an offer like that” simply attempts to place ourselves hierarchically is a position to feel justified passing judgment.

By regulating our emotional and behavioral reactions, we can establish a basis for healthy representations of others. We may at the very least leave open the possibility of neutral or welcoming conversation if future negotiations are to occur. Ultimately, the goal is what’s called integration. Holding an integrated perspective allows for two views of the other to be present at the same time (e.g., I’m frustrated with you, but I still care about you). In our trading context, this may be displayed by “I don’t agree with you at all, but I still respect your opinion.”

Personal process perception

We see many mutual deals in leagues based on a good match between team needs, resulting in a win-win outcome. Therefore, dynasty owners often attempt to see what other teams need and send offers that fit that idea. This is an honest attempt, though this also a fairly skewed assessment, as it is based in your conceptualization of their process. Like in life, understanding others is almost always through our own perception and interpretation, which can be problematic.

More specifically with the genuine effort above, I frequently see advocacy for looking around for holes in people’s rosters, inspecting your own roster, then determining what would be an adequate match. Sure, that makes sense but let’s stop there any consider what you are doing. You are assuming not only that others want balance across all positions, but that the particular hole you have identified is one that the other owner cares about. Again, you are viewing their roster through the lens of your process.

It’s fascinating how many well intended conversations begin without this understanding and lead to halted discussions or disdain. As a wide receiver-heavy builder, there have been countless times where I receive a trade offer with a comment such as “Looks like you could use a running back and have a lot of extra wide receivers…so how about these two [aging] running backs for your [young, top-24] wide receiver?” The person I am trading with apparently would not be comfortable with my roster construction and expects me to share the same discomfort.

We need to initiate a greater effort toward understanding our leaguemates’ processes, and why they may make certain decisions. Trade offers and negotiations are the best clue in our investigation of their processes. Once we have tracked such tendencies, it is vital to go even deeper to further our attempt to understand our opponents. By examining the psychological processes underlying others’ decisions, we may more effectively navigate the rocky waters of negotiation to satisfy our trade needs.

If we continue collecting valuable interpersonal and process-related information, our leaguemates may unintentionally and unknowingly reveal important material that can solidify our understanding of how they think. As I portrayed in the initial quote, everything means something.

Communication Tells

Becoming more observant of ways that you and your leaguemates unintentionally reveal information can be an initial step in gaining an advantage in trading. There are a number of instances that may subtly reveal true intentions, such as holding an offer while still negotiating with the same owner, rapidly revoked offers, table talk, saying you have another offer from a different owner, or repeated offers for the same player.

Good negotiations that are fairly close may have offers going back and forth. As the deal approaches an agreement, there may be instances where an owner does not reject an offer but continues negotiating. By not rejecting an offer but then sending a counter, this often indicates they prefer a better deal but don’t want to risk losing out on the current offer.

Offers that are quickly revoked suggest some degree of anxiety after the offer was no longer in their control. Even if the same offer is not one in which they are comfortable, it reveals an initial price point that they will likely consider.

While there is nothing wrong with fielding offers while on the clock in a draft, engaging in table talk in a group chat suggests a lack of commitment to a particular selection. Whenever owners use phrases like, “I’m going to take this guy next if you don’t trade up,” or “Woah, I can’t believe this player is still available!” the selection rarely ends up being that player.

It is likely expected that when someone is negotiating a trade, that they will be negotiating elsewhere as well. When a trade partner indicates they have another offer from someone else that they are considering, usually there is a strong possibility there is not another offer. If there is another offer, it is likely not one they are seriously considering. More commonly, you receive another popular phrase indicating that the deal “fell apart” with the other owner when their ploy was unsuccessful.

If someone continually sends offers which only include a specific player over and over, it is likely that they will overpay for said player. You have a variety of options including working quickly to capitalize on their interest, waiting a bit longer for them to bite on moving an asset they are not keen on trading, or putting it in your back pocket for later.

Potential Trade Tactics

Transparency and honesty

This needs to be somewhat strategic but can be extremely valued in negotiations. Straightforwardness about where you value a player can lead to a quick deal and everyone moves on happily. If you’re caught bluffing, you often waste everyone’s time and could harm future negotiations. This is the most straightforward way to facilitate deals and establish solid trading relationships.

Realistic responses

Sending bad trade offers is a waste of everyone’s time. So is responding to a bad offer with a bad counteroffer.

I frequently see individuals saying that you should show the other owner what it feels like to receive such an offer. While this can be the knee jerk reaction at times, it is important to remember that you only have a certain number of trade partners in each league. If you burn a bridge, it limits your potential player pool by close to ten percent. While responding with a reasonable offer may give the other owner the sense that their low-ball conservative “tactic” worked, that’s an insignificant loss to progress trade discussions. Educating the other owner is a fruitless effort and one that is likely to push them away. Swallow your pride, since the overall goal is to complete deals that improve your roster, not prove a point or make the other owner see things rationally.

Quick responses

Most of my deals happen fairly quickly. I start in a reasonable range with an idea of the assets I won’t move to get a deal done. Other than that, I’m fairly flexible. It also helps that I don’t rigidly care about a perceived “value” gain as a prerequisite for a deal to be completed. Therefore, I don’t typically get caught up asking to have a random future second or third round pick thrown in to make me feel more comfortable. If I am getting the piece(s) I want out of the deal, and not giving up the one’s I absolutely don’t want to lose, then I’m motivated to compromise.

If it’s clear that it’s not going to work because I have quickly reached my reasonable limit, I tell my leaguemate and there are no hard feelings. The willingness to work quickly and efficiently often has people coming back to me first whenever they are looking to deal an asset. If you keep things moving while the other person is “on the line,” they are likely more motivated to conclude the discussion then as well. You may get a few quick counters back and forth and possibly get them to agree to something that they otherwise might not if they sat on it for a few days.

Best I could do” or “Best and final”

I have used these before which is often truthful and an attempt to set the expectation that there are not more offers coming. While it can feel silly to say, that’s okay. If it gets them to make a decision, even if there is a rejection, it allows you to move on to the next negotiation. Interestingly, this also doesn’t necessarily have to be your final offer. However, it certainly should be close to it.

Using these phrases may provide a benchmark that makes the other feel that they have gotten a better offer than you intended or some greater value than you think you should have given up. There is a sense of desperation that is conveyed when you go beyond your “final,” which may make the other feel they are pushing you. This can actually be used to your advantage when you have calculated this “final” to have a small amount of wiggle room beyond it. Tactically this can be done without being overly deceitful.

Offers as decisions

This one is quite simple. View every trade offer you send or receive to be a decision you must make. This can help to overcome reservations about accepting a trade that may be the wrong move. Sometimes doing nothing can be the wrong move. This is often defended by the realization that those offering you a trade clearly prefer your side or they wouldn’t be sending the offer. The justification or impact to your opponent’s roster should not impact the decision you make. Build your team how you feel it should be built, irrespective of the impact on another’s team.

Group offers

Now I should qualify this by saying these are not “spam offers” that have zero chance of being accepted. Spam offers are a waste of everyone’s time, harm your credibility in the league, and alienate you from your leaguemates. Group offers, on the other hand, should be realistic and fairly close offers to what you would expect to get the deal done.

In this case, you set a predetermined starting value that you would want to sell for, then send a similar offer to as many owners as you can. In the spirit of understanding others, these also work better if there is some degree of communication beforehand about what other teams are looking for in a trade. When I send out groups of offers, I make them such that I expect that one of them may be accepted or at least it would be reciprocated with a close counteroffer. These can be particularly useful in startups or rookie drafts when you are looking to get into certain ranges of the draft without concern over the exactness of the pick. However, these can also involve players you are trying to sell for a variety of similar type player packages.

Multiple variations of offers

While it can seem annoying to send multiple offers to the same person (and some may be annoyed by receiving them) I never complain about getting an offer. Though, as mentioned with sending a group of offers to different leaguemates, these variations of offers here should remain realistic and close to your price. What sending multiple variations of an offer can do is give the other person the semblance of choice and internal comparison.

Of course, they always have a choice, but a single offer alone may be scrutinized and rejected as it is compared to an idealized perfect offer or perceived “value.” When multiple options are presented, the brain immediately begins to rank the offers in an order of preference. The result is that the most preferable offer has a positive undertone, likely above that presented in isolation.

More specifically, try to find three combinations of assets with the core pieces of the potential deal the same. By structuring offers in this way, you may send something of interest to facilitate a counteroffer or immediate deal, all the while diverting the eye to the ancillary pieces of the deal. If things don’t work out, at the very least you condense the time and get your answers on the different options you were planning to send.

The Trade Timer Exercise

As always, here is a take home exercise to see if you might be able to approach trades without reservations.

  • Select a dynasty roster where you would like to consider making some moves. This may be a team that is in full rebuild, a contender looking to make a few trades to stay on top, or somewhere in between.
  • Ask a dynasty friend to work as “the bank” and your trade partner for this exercise. This other person will have access to every player and pick that you do not have on your selected roster.
  • Gather some basic dynasty information from this other person acting as “the bank” about how they like to build their teams (i.e., preferences toward positions, youth, veterans, picks, etc.)
  • Set a 2-minute timer for each trade period and begin by verbally sending an offer to your trade partner. Negotiate back and forth as the clock ticks until you either have a deal or run out of time. If you run out of time, you must accept the last deal proposed. Note: the assumption here is that your trade partner is also committed to making a deal and won’t make offers worse over time.
  • Repeat this process about 4-5 times to get in the habit of starting with a deal that is close to your final price and pulling the trigger on trades.
  • Recap your completed trades in an overall gains/losses fashion. Ask yourself whether you like your team better than when you started. Are there trades you don’t like after the fact? While some of the moves may not be ideal, if it seems like they would be close or acceptable, you may feel encouraged to go to your actual leagues and propose something. There can be fear of making the “wrong” move or an idealized pursuit of the “perfect” deal. There can also be an overemphasis on “value” as the primary driver of trade decisions. This exaggerated exercise puts the pressure on and may help you realize that the moves you make do not have to be a seamless match to achieve your trading goals.


I leave you with a call to question whether your representations of your leaguemates are unemotional and accurate understandings of their interpersonal and dynasty processes. Halting your judgment at this step and exploring can provide a better mentality entering transactional conversations. As you develop a stronger understanding of how your opponents think, you may be able to recognize tendencies that you can use to your advantage. By having a strong psychological analysis of your opponent, you are equipped to communicate more openly, honestly, and efficiently to get more deals done.

jeremy schwob