When someone requests your professional help, they are giving you permission and the power to ask for something in return. It is a magic moment.
Mostly, we don’t like asking because it exposes us. Asking takes us out of our comfort zone. They might say no. And that might mean we don’t measure up or they don't need us. So we don’t ask. It makes us vulnerable to that basic fear that we’re just not worthy. It takes a lot of confidence to ask.
But, when someone discovers you though your work and asks you to contribute your skills to create something for them, it changes everything. It means that they do need you; they already see you that way. It means that they see and appreciate what you do. It means that they expect you to ask for something in return.
Of course, your work and expertise may not be right for everyone, but it’s just right for the person who asks. That’s what the message is when you are asked.
The other day I was in a group discussion about teamwork and how to give critical feedback to improve performance. One participant, a young woman named Barb, seemed uncomfortable. She hadn’t said much and her cheeks flushed as the conversation went this way and that, even when she wasn’t speaking. Then someone in the group asked, “So, what do I say to get them to improve?”
Barb responded, “I’m an editor of scientific papers for a group of PhDs who are terrible writers. Although I’m not a scientist nor a PhD, they accept me as their editor, which is fantastic. Even so, I have to be very careful in how I phrase the feedback so they can take in what I’m saying. I’ve learned to say…”
The minute Barb began to describe the feedback method she used her cheeks stopped flushing. She straightened her back, leaned forward, and was completely confident in her demeanor. Barb had moved into the zone of comfort created by her expertise. She became professional, poised, and powerful. The group responded with agreement and confirmation of her approach.
So there it is: your expertise is your power. When you are in the comfort zone that your skills and experience provide, you have the power. And it gives you all the power and respect you need to negotiate with those who are more powerful than you, no matter who they are.
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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