Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Hidden Power of Stepping Away

Read Time: 4 minutes

Last week I talked about the impact your childhood has on your ability to negotiate — a topic fraught with emotion, as I heard from many of you! So now that you’re aware of this, how do you handle it when you — and your emotions — are at the negotiating table?

Presenting yourself as a creative professional comes with a special kind of pressure. You are presenting 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.

How have you worked through emotions during stressful negotiations? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

An earlier version of this post appeared at Creative Bloq.

1 Comment

  • Ted:

    Want to thank you for this well thought through and presented article/posting. PJ Walter from its now very calming studio base on the seaside in Cardiff, California, (thirty years from the start in Seattle), deals with what you have outlined on, well, a “regular basis” ( OK on every project). Our recent niche has been working with start-ups because of their inherent need for our storytelling skills, and with it comes uncertainty, clinging to ownership of ideas, and of course fragile finances, making up this emotional cocktail. Have named, branded and done complete roll-outs for five such companies in just the past 26 months ( Thinking About Sports, New York – Digital Media Etc., New York, Los Angeles –, San Francisco, San Diego – Alkamie Group, Los Angeles and just last week at the IoT World Conference – Mesh Candy Networks.

    In every one of these cases there was a scenario that unfolded that you describe in your piece that requires “cool heads to prevail” and this “taking a break” to allow that is a spot-on advice and a wonderful idea ( kind of like kids did or do with “time out”). This also comes down to personality traits and there are people who are simply made up better then others to be “apolitical” when their ideas are “under attack”. Where the difference comes in is how tightly you embrace your creative work and how defensive you get when people say ” I don’t get it” or worse ” I don’t like it”. I have used the mantra since the early agency days of “ideas don’t know their parents” and really everything we create is in some form taken from our life experiences and the “lens” we look at it all through.

    So, in closing thank you for bringing this very real ( and will not go away) challenge to light in such an eloquent manner. Love to continue on but I am going to need take a break and think abut all of this.

    Onward & Upward

    Peter J. Loehfelm
    Creative Director
    PJ Walter Storytellers

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