Thursday, October 9, 2014

How to Use Creative Power to Negotiate

Read Time: 4 minutes

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 underpaid. 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 the 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 have come up with a few.

It turns out that we creatives are more sensitive to our feelings and the feelings of others. That very sensitivity is why we’re able to make the emotional connections through our work. But those same sensitivities can make us anxious when we’re facing a stressful situation. And, let’s face it, negotiation is stressful. That feeling of discomfort is deeply personal. We’re always measuring ourselves 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 happy. So, it’s not surprising that creatives often fold when pressed on price so that they can get to the good part – 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 worth pursuing.

Make a list of your accomplishments. Creatives are often looking ahead to what’s next, and less focused on what’s past. When we’re under stress, we tend to forget our successes and fall prey to self-doubt. If you make a list before an important negotiation, you can easily recall your important accomplishments. Reviewing the list will give you confidence even if you don’t mention anything on it.

Do your homework. Decide in advance what you want. Know your bottom line. Know the price range for the job or project you’re interviewing for. Be as aware as you can be about your opposite, their situation, what they are looking for. Use what you’ve learned to create a list of questions to ask in the meeting. Your preparation will increase your confidence.

Read the room. This will force you out of your self-consciousness. Instead, 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.

Understand their stated issues and why those 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. They must trust you before they will reveal their interests. Interests include personal aspirations, like how this effort impacts their future. Personal values are interests. Are you aligned socially? Politically? If your interests are aligned, you have a shot.

Get a coach. Ask someone you trust to help you prepare. They can be a co-worker, industry insider, friend, or significant other. All they need is an understanding of the situation and a fundamental appreciation of what’s involved. Their role is to give you advice without being emotionally involved. You may not agree with, or use, all their suggestions. What’s important for you is that the discussion will give you insights you couldn’t get on your own. And again, the discussion alone will build your confidence and relieve anxiety.

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

This article also appeared at Dexigner.


  • Bruce Hale says:


  • Robert Weis says:

    Great insights, Ted — they certainly apply to professional researchers-writers. Some of the most creative work I do as an executive speech professional is a particular approach to researching the audience as well as the topic so that the speaker can be responsive and engage at a high level of inquiry. Tough to “sell” this. I very much appreciate your outreach and encouragement to all creatives.

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