One Weird Trick to Build Your Negotiation Muscles

If you want to be a better negotiator, you need to train.

You need to exercise your negotiation muscles regularly, executing each exercise with proper form and control. When you first start you can improve very quickly, but you shouldn’t expect mind-blowing results overnight.

Here’s one exercise you can try at home to build muscle and fight the dreaded anxiety of conflict.

Remember, it’s always important to warm up before a work out. Never go into a negotiation cold. Even just five to ten minutes of preparation can make a huge difference.

By phlubdr via

By phlubdr via

For this exercise you’ll need a memory or two of past negotiations where you felt really good about the outcome.

It’s hard to do well in a negotiation if your internal monologue is, “Oh, crap! Oh, crap! Oh, crap! I’ve never done this before! What do I do???”

Other unhelpful variants include, “Oh, god, I’m totally going to get screwed,” and “I hope they say yes because I don’t know what to do otherwise.”

These internal messages set you up for failure. They tell you the negotiation is going to be difficult or that you’re not very good at negotiating and then, guess what? The negotiation is difficult.

This is not to say that you have magical powers to direct the fates with your mind, but how confident you feel in a negotiation will impact the things you’re willing to ask for, the risks you’ll be willing to take and the value you’ll accept for your work. If you aren’t confident, you won’t stick up for yourself and you’ll accept less than what you should.

Instead of leaving your internal monologue to chance, plan for it.

Step One
Remember a time when you negotiated for something successfully. It could be a memory from a negotiation related to your business, a good deal you got at a yard sale or a time you got a large group of people to agree to a restaurant for dinner.

The memory doesn’t have to be about a particular type of negotiation. Instead, focus on a time when you managed to get something you wanted and you felt good about how you got that thing.

Step Two
Play the memory clearly in your mind from beginning to end. Remember how you felt before the negotiation and how you felt afterwards. If there were sights or sounds or smells that you remember, focus on them for a bit and let your mind see the situation with all of its nuance. If you find it easier to remember things when you write them down, write out the story of your memory.

Step Three
Reduce your memory to two or three sentences that capture what you accomplished and why it made you feel good.

By Queen of the Universe via

By Queen of the Universe via

A few examples:

“I asked Client X for a raise and they said yes. I’d been really anxious about asking, but I did it anyway and I was proud of myself.”

“Fran and I were arguing over how to finish up a project and I asked her to explain why she wanted to do things her way. It helped me realize we were talking about two different things and I explained my interests to her. We found a compromise that worked for both of us.”

“Jake wanted to see Star Trek Into Darkness for the seventh time and I wanted to go check out the happy hour at a new bar. I got him to agree to go to the happy hour before the movie and we had a great time. I felt good because I stuck up for what I wanted to do.”

Say your sentences out loud while thinking about your memory. Repeat as many times as necessary to connect the memory to your short description.

Step Four
Before you negotiate a contract or a raise or a conflict, take 10 seconds and say to yourself, “I can do this because …” and repeat your two to three sentences.

Do this every time you negotiate anything.

Refund at Target? Do it.

Difficult conversation with a collaborator? Do it.

A higher license fee for your work? Do it.

Make the last thing you think about before tackling a negotiation be the memory of when you negotiated and were successful.

You can repeat Steps 1-3 as many times as you like with as many memories as you like. As you do more negotiating, you’ll likely gain new memories of accomplishments you’re proud of.

Capture those new memories and use them to remind yourself that you’ve already proven you can take care of yourself in a negotiation.

By William Doran via

By William Doran via

Now get out there and work those negotiation muscles!


The good folks at the Freelancers Union put together a great collection of web resources for freelancers. And they included Work Made For Hire! Go check it out and inundate your RSS reader with some excellent new blogs.

Categories: Self Awareness Tools

1 Comment »

Tags: , , ,

« Power Play

Just Say No to Requests for Ridiculous Discounts »

One response to “One Weird Trick to Build Your Negotiation Muscles”

  1. M!ke says:

    This reminds me of the practice of putting inspiring quotes up around your work space. Only your tip/practice, Katie, is so much more personal. If I posted my inspiring memories within easy view of my desk, AND I periodically took a moment to conjure up the feelings from the memory, I can imagine that would have a powerful cumulative effect. Cool!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

RSS Feed

From the Blog

Copyright and Conflict in Collaborative Projects

One of the great things about making art is the opportunity to collaborate with other creators. You get to borrow each other’s brains, see stories through one another’s eyes, and create things together that neither of you could have created on your own. There’s just one little thing: it can be


Subscribe to the Work Made For Hire Blog

Twitter Updates

Email Subscription

Want Katie's tips via email?

Sign up here: