Being a bad negotiator is epidemic among creative professionals. We avoid it, sticking our heads in the sand, or, perhaps worse, think we’re above having to negotiate at all and don’t bother to prepare.
Our work is personal! We really care about it. We care so deeply, our vulnerabilities flood us with anxiety when stress rises — and negotiating is always stressful. So I created a list of eight truths that will help you get what you need when you’re feeling stressed.
Truth 1: Negotiation Creates Respect
Anytime you’re talking to a client, employer, or even a co-worker, about money, deliverables or schedules, negotiation is expected.
If you don’t ask for what you need to succeed, you lose not only money, but respect. Respect is more important than money because it leads to the kind of freedom needed to do successful work. Respect thus gives you the power to achieve success, which leads to money.
Expect to negotiate: Do it, and observe people’s respect for you rise.
Truth 2: Fear is Normal — Take Action
Expect fear and discomfort. The anxieties we feel when negotiating are completely normal. Everyone feels them. They don’t go away. I feel the same anxiety today that I felt in my twenties. But, in spite of that fear, I’ve become a skilled negotiator. You can too.
So learn to expect the fear. It’s a wake-up call for you to pay attention and take action. And action is a proven way to regain your confidence. Action increases confidence and conquers fear.
When negotiating, the simple action of asking a question can reduce your fear.
Truth 3: Creativity Increases Vulnerability — Use Vulnerability to Better Understand Others
The feelings of creative individuals lie close to the surface. Our ability to evoke feelings is why we’re hired, after all. The work we do is all about emotions, so it’s no wonder we have our hearts on our sleeves when we’re at the bargaining table too. As a creative, your heart is always on the line. This is actually a good thing because it makes you more able to empathize with others, and this ability to empathize makes you good at what you do.
My advice is to learn to use your creativity to understand the vulnerabilities of others. And, in the process, you will increase your understanding of others and increase your feeling of well-being at the bargaining table.
Truth 4: Your Tireless Energy is Infectious
We’re absolutely dedicated to doing an exceptional job when we’re doing work that we love. Let your clients see your unrelenting pursuit of perfection in the service of their cause. It’s persuasive and it’s infectious.
They’ll want your creative power working for them when they know you understand their needs and that you will tirelessly engage with their cause.
Truth 5: Your Expertise is Your Source of Power
Your power and your leverage come entirely from what you can do for others. They need you, and only you, for what you can do for them.
Truly great creative individuals, from Michelangelo to Steve Jobs, spent their lives focused on improving their expertise. The difference between being merely good and truly standing apart is that focus on expertise.
The better you get, the more you will be in demand and the less you will need to negotiate. It’s simple: They will need to meet your needs if they want your talent.
Truth 6: We All Fear Rejection
Afraid of rejection? We all are. Practice asking for small things at first. Another week to complete the project, or a few more dollars. Maybe a revised deliverables list? What “it” is doesn’t matter. The process of simply asking for small things will help you get past your fears. Some call it rejection therapy and it works. You’ll become more confident at asking for what you need if you practice. Remember, you’re only asking for what you need to be successful for them.
Truth 7: Planning Reduces the Unknowns
Planning increases confidence, and with confidence comes control.
As creative individuals we plan all the time. Planning the next big thing is what keeps us inspired. Most of us are not naturals at Excel but we are naturals at figuring out what is needed to get things done.
But with the emotional uncertainty caused by the stress of negotiating, we often resist using our well-developed planning skills. Yes, negotiation produces anxiety, but anxiety is caused by unknowns. Always remember that the simple act of planning reduces unknowns.
So make a list of what you know and what you don’t know. What you know should include the basic facts of the situation, such as the job description and the company history. The list of what you don’t know should include things like the salary range and the interviewer’s background. In other words, the things that you need to know to be successful. The more unknowns you can transfer to the known list, the better you will feel.
Truth 8: The Reason to Negotiate Is to Create Value for Everyone
It is in the other side’s best interest for you to feel well paid because you won’t be able to do your best if you don’t feel valued.
So bargain hard, but with respect. This respectful attitude is critical because people will forget the details of a negotiation, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
Ask for and get what you need to succeed; do it for them and for you.
Remember, you are worth it.
Ted Leonhardt has provided management consulting and negotiation training exclusively to creative businesses since 2005. He cofounded the The Leonhardt Group, a brand design firm in 1985 and sold it in 1999. In 2001 and 2002 Ted served as Chief Creative Officer for Fitch Worldwide, out of London. In 2003 through early 2005 Ted was president of Anthem Worldwide, a brand packaging design group.
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