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July 29, 2013
Get Control of that Meeting

Presenting yourself as a creative professional comes with a special kind of pressure. You are representing not only yourself, but yourself plus the work you’ve done. Not only is your appearance and performance examined, but things that you create with your hands, heart, and mind are judged as well.
This aspect of being a creative professional comes with a heady combination of highs and lows. The thrills that come from the process of creation come with a big dose of anxiety over how our work will be received. We creatives undoubtedly get into this business because of the thrill of doing the work and getting recognized for it. The flip side is the vulnerability that we experience over how our work is received.
Sometimes during a stressful pitch or negotiation, we feel overwhelmed. These meetings are important. They are critical for our future. In extreme circumstances you may find your vision narrowing, a pounding sensation in your ears, stomach upset, or any number of sensations. These “out of balance” feelings can happen to anyone. Or you might find yourself with nothing to say, and that’s bad enough. (It’s happened to me.)
Continuing the meeting — trying to suppress the feelings — it’s likely that the discomfort will return. Simply “getting past it” just doesn’t work. At least in my experience it never did.
What works is taking direct action. The easiest action is to take a break from the discussion, saying something like: ”I’ll just take a moment to think about this.” Rise from your chair and leave the room. “I’ll be back in a minute.” Don’t allow your opposite to stop you.
Or you could say, “I need just a moment to compose myself.” This just might get the other person to rethink their approach.
Of course you can always say: “Could we pause for a few minutes? I need a break.”
Be aware in advance that you can excuse yourself. It’s important because when you’re in the room and feeling pressed, you must recognize that these anxious feelings are a signal to take action. If you’re not aware of this option and aren’t prepared to take it, the anxiety could take over and reduce your ability to deal with the situation, or worse, cause a breakdown.
It’s important to remember that to do your best for yourself and your client or potential employer, you must be at your best. In fact, taking a break honors the importance of the meeting. You’re doing it in the spirit of doing your best.
Once you are heading for the restroom, you’ll feel much better. The simple fact that you took action to regain control will make you feel better. With your confidence returning, think of a few questions to use once you’re back at the table. Questions are another method of maintaining your confidence. Questions will help you gain more control of the situation and demonstrate your interest. The break gives you a chance to restart and regain control of the encounter.
Returning to the meeting, you need to restart the conversation.
You could say, “I was surprised to hear you say_____. Could you explain further?”
You can enlist their help in getting past the situation with: “Is there a way we can work together to solve this?”
Or one of my all-time favorite statements: “Help me to understand why it creates difficulty for you.”
Or “Let’s try to think of ways to meet both our needs.”
All these questions use neutral language and are used, obviously, in a spirit of mutuality. You are showing your spirit of collaboration. All are in the best interest of you and your opposite. Best of all, they put you back in control. With control you’ll feel stronger, better, and worthy of the consideration of your opposite.
(Ah yes, the fireman did get the assignment, but it took a second meeting to seal the deal.)
What do you think? Have you had a situation like this? I’d love to hear your comments.

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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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