Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How to Use Your Vulnerability in a Negotiation

Read Time: 4 minutes

As creative professionals we have a tremendous advantage when interacting and negotiating with others. We are deeply in touch with our own emotions, and we have finely tuned instincts that give us a natural ability to perceive the emotions of others. That’s why people hire us, after all: to elicit emotion and move people to action.

Unfortunately, these traits are often portrayed in business as undesirable. We’re told that showing emotion makes us appear weak or vulnerable.

But in my experience, attunement and vulnerability are powerful natural skills that help us. Paying attention to the unspoken dynamics in a meeting helps us read intent and predict how others will act, much like a grandmaster reads a chess board. The key, though, is listening to our instincts and knowing when and how to behave.

Revealing our real selves — including our vulnerabilities — is a way of deepening human interactions. You share a detail about your true self — a weakness or an uncertainty — and your new friend shares one about herself, as well. That’s part of what cements our relationships and makes us feel closer.

Over the years, I’ve learned that we can use the same techniques when negotiating. Confidences shared in this way can deepen your business relationships. And they may also bring an added sense of partnership and empathy into the picture. Now your client isn’t an adversary, but someone on your team, maybe even rooting for you.

Be mindful of the setting, of course. A meeting with a client is not the time to share your vulnerabilities in romantic relationships or family dramas. This is about showing the vulnerability in your negotiating position.

Here’s how to use vulnerability to deepen client relationships and inspire empathy in others:

  • Admit to being nervous. “I’ve never addressed this many people before, so please bear with me, I might not be at the top of my game.”
  • Reveal your uncertainty. “I know you have much more experience at this than I do, Diane, so may I please rely on your help to get through it?”
  • Express your enthusiasm. “You know, Bob, this is such a perfect project for me. I’d really love to be involved, and I know I would do a great job.”

Research shows that when you acknowledge feelings of anxiety, those feelings pass more quickly than if you suppress them. So revealing your vulnerability helps you remain calm, and it inspires empathy from your clients or business partners.

But what if you are with people who don’t experience empathy? Or you’re in a corporate culture where competition is so ingrained that co-workers eagerly exploit the slightest sign of vulnerability to gain advantage? In these cases, revealing too much can be a liability rather than a strength. When these people smell blood, they go for the jugular. It’s important to proceed with caution.

So how can you tell the difference? One way is to check what others say. Former collaborators, clients, and colleagues are often willing to share their experiences with a particular organization or individual. Plus, here’s where our finely tuned instincts come in. A lot of times, we are able to perceive deep truths about people simply by tuning in to our gut reactions. Set up little tests for yourself by asking specific questions about the person you are dealing with. And pay close attention to your observations.

Here are a few questions that may help:

  • Does Lauren seem authentic or false?
  • Do you sense that you can trust her? Has she undermined you?
  • Has she abided by her agreements with you?
  • Is she looking out only for herself in her dealings with you?

Often we perceive a lot about somebody through our instinct, but then we disregard our own conclusions. My experience shows that this is never wise.

And there is a lot of research that confirms how important it is to trust your gut. Listen to your instincts, and if it’s safe to reveal yourself, then use vulnerability as a strength to gain understanding and empathy.

Your instincts are a powerful and strategic tool in your negotiation skill set. Now use them!

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