How to Use Creative Power to Negotiate

How to Use Creative Power to Negotiate

Here's the dilemma. Our power to create is what makes us human. The results of human creativity are all around us. Those of us who are lucky enough to make our living through our creative expertise make an immense contribution. We routinely help make the emotional connection between: companies and customers, products and people, movies and audiences, music and listeners, concepts and feelings and on and on. Yet we're also routinely under paid. As an example, a quick Google search shows that lawyers are paid five times what designers are in big cities.

Creatives, on the whole, are terrible at asking for the money. Why? We love doing the work yet don't ask for money and, yes respect, in return. Money, after all, is respect in our society.

I've been looking for answers to that question for years and I've come up with a few.

It turns out that we creatives are more sensitive to our feelings and the feelings of others than most. That very sensitivity is why we're able to make the emotional connections that we do through our work. But those same sensitivities can make us very anxious when we're facing or in a stressful situation. And, let's face it, negotiation is stressful. That feeling of discomfort is deeply personal. We're always measuring ourselves based on how our work is received. It comes down to our feelings of self worth or lack of self worth. Naturally, it makes us uncomfortable.

On the other hand, doing the work makes us very happy. So, it's not surprising that creatives often just fold when pressed on the price so that they can get to the good part: doing the work.

What to do

Think of negotiation as a part of your creative process because it is. Negotiation is a highly creative activity. It's all about finding a path forward to mutual success while gaining and retaining the trust and respect of the other party. Negotiation is an interpersonal journey of discovery. You may not get exactly what you want, but you will get an understanding of what it will be like to work with the other party. Just engaging in the discussion gives you the opportunity to shape the outcome and to get to know whether the opportunity is one you want to pursue.

Make a list of your accomplishments. Here's why this is important. One of the traits of creatives is that we're more focused on what's next than we are on past achievements. When we're under stress we tend to forget our past accomplishments and fall prey to our self-doubts. If you make a list just prior to an important negotiation you can easily remember your all-important accomplishments. They will give you confidence even if you don't mention them.

Do your homework. Decide in advance what you want. Know what your bottom line is. Know what the range is for what you are being asked. Be as aware as you can be about your opposite, what their situation is, what they are looking for. Use what you've learned to create a list of questions that you can use in the meeting. Feeling prepared will increase your confidence.

Get past your feelings of anxiety about what they think about you by reading the room. Use your sensitivity to the feelings of others by observing them and making a few mental notes. Use your observations to inform the questions you ask during the discussion.

Understand their stated issues and why they are important. Issues are concrete things like schedule, budget and deliverables. But know that their underlying interests are far more important. Interests are more complicated and more sensitive. Interests always have an emotional foundation. Hence they must trust you before they will reveal their interests. Interests include personal aspirations like how this effort will impact their future. Personal values are interests. Are you aligned socially? Politically? If your interests are aligned then you have a shot.

Get a coach. Get someone you trust to help you prepare. They must understand the situation and have at least a fundamental appreciation of what's involved. They can be a co-worker, industry insider, friend or significant other. Their role is to give your advice without being emotionally involved. You may not agree with, or use, all their suggestions, but what's important is that discussing the situation with them will give you insights that you couldn't get on your own. And again, the discussion alone will build your confidence and relieve some of those anxieties.

The goal is to use the traits you've developed as a creative to advantage when you're in the hot seat and (maybe) purchasing is breathing down your neck.

Ted Leonhardt