I’m always confused when someone tells me they can’t negotiate because, “you know, I’m an artist.”
Artists can make great negotiators! Because artists understand stories.
And understanding stories, why they work and why they don’t, is essential for being a good negotiator.
There are a number of studies that have tried to unlock how our brains handle new information, both how we learn and how we understand that new information in context of what we already know.
The New York Times Magazine had a nice short article last week about how our opinions can evolve over time and how, despite that change, we feel very comfortable that our current position is consistent with how we thought in the past.
(Despite the title of the piece you, me and everyone we know behaves this way; no one is specially excluded from the tendency.)
It turns out that one of the key elements to maintaining this delusion of consistency is narrative. If the new information fits the story of how we understand the world, the information is readily accepted and folded into our view of how things work. If the new information conflicts with our narrative, it’s much harder for the information to establish an influential foothold in our mind.
So how the heck does this translate into artists being good negotiators?
Embrace the Narrative
Use your understanding of story to augment how you approach negotiations. You understand character motivation, polt development and genre. Use it to your advantage!
When trying to convince someone of something, make sure the new information fits their (not your) narrative. You want your offer to fit so well with their story that it “just makes sense.”
Take the time to understand why this particular negotiation is important to the other person; what does this deal say about them or their goals?
Simply asking, “How does this project/piece/job fit into your larger picture?” can give you a ton of useful context for crafting your pitch.
It can also help you know how they view their role in this situation.
Are they the objective gatekeeper tasked with finding the best fit for their team’s project? Then give them a couple of options (all options you’re OK with, of course). Make sure you provide a good amount of detail about each choice and clearly indicate the benefits of each option.
Is this their pet project that they really want to be successful? Make your offer personal and describe it in terms of how it supports their goals. Highlight how your offer gives them the right balance of quality, flexibility and value. If they push back, couch your response in terms of how their counteroffer might negatively impact their goal.
When negotiating with someone it can be hard to remember that they are coming to the situation with preconceived ideas and a narrative about how everything is supposed to work out. They aren’t just responding to everything you say from a totally neutral, rational position.
Be mindful of their perspective and try to make sure your message compliments their narrative.
Avoid the Narrative
At the same time, while understanding what makes a story good can be helpful, beware you don’t get caught up in too much of the story yourself. Jenkins’ admonition in Redshirts is apt for negotiations as well: avoid the narrative.
Don’t let the story in your head play too big a role in the decisions you make.
The story about whether or not you’re good at negotiating.
The story about how powerful they are and how badly you need them.
The story about how important this negotiation is and that you can’t afford to lose.
Too often people convince themselves that a negotiation will play out in a particular way because _____________.
That Fill In The Blank is the narrative taking over. It is you responding to something you think is true based on what you’ve told yourself expect out of this negotiation
And, as we know, we’re not always right about how we perceive situations.
The easiest way to avoid your unhelpful narrative is to be well prepared.
Spend time when you aren’t stressed thinking about the negotiation and which of your goals it will support. Talk to trusted colleagues or friends about what you’re worried about in the negotiation and ask for their recommendations. Have a good back up plan that you can use if things get rough.
Give yourself something to pay attention to other than the story your anxious brain is telling you about this negotiation and what it means.
Stories are important. They help us make sense of new information and give us something to follow in confusing situations. Use your understanding of stories and how they can be effective to help you be a better negotiator, just don’t get too caught up in them yourself.
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Categories: Dealing with People