Negotiating for Freelance Success Series (Part 1 of 3): Becoming a better negotiator changed my life; it can change yours, too.
Negotiation is about finding a solution to a problem and not about you or your client.
Congratulations, you’ve been selected to work as a negotiator every day for the rest of your career!
How did that sentence make you feel?
Surprised? Intimidated? Nervous? All of the above?
Out of ALL of the important topics that come up with freelancing, somehow negotiation gets shoved to the bottom of the list (or never talked about at all).
If you’re a freelancer and that sentence made you want to hide under ALL the blankets, we gotta talk. Because chances are you’re living through unnecessary stress, leaving money on the table, and routinely allowing scope creep to ruin your plans and your hourly rate.
It sometimes floors me that practically NO ONE is talking about how critical negotiation skills are for freelancers. These are truly some of the most powerful skills to have. You can be a great writer, but if your negotiation skills stink, then not only are you routinely selling yourself short, you’re also likely to put up with a lot of suboptimal working conditions that make writing more difficult than it should be.
If you’re a timid negotiator – or worse, someone who simply accepts everything that the other side says and offers – you’re not giving yourself a fair shake and you’re not giving your business a fair chance to thrive.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that learning to negotiate turned my life around.
When I first started to study negotiation back in law school, I was worse than timid – I was frightened. I found out very quickly that it’s really hard to ask for what you deserve if you have social anxiety. It’s almost impossible to negotiate successfully if your motivation in every situation is to make sure that you are liked or that no one is mad at you.
Negotiation training taught me to get what I want without playing hardball, raising my voice, resorting to misleading statements, or acting in any other way that would make me uncomfortable.
It’s partly responsible for the social anxiety (mostly) going away.
And it’s the reason I’m able to be successful in a freelance business now – a career choice that fits me perfectly.
This is why learning to negotiate is so valuable. It’s about much more than just making more money – it’s about learning to navigate the world in a better way.
In this post and the next two, I’ll share three ways to become a significantly better negotiator.
Problems, not people
One of the first things that a negotiator must learn to do is dissociate the situation being discussed from the people involved in the discussion. Otherwise, the negotiation starts to be personal. And taking things personally is the quickest way to end up in an impasse and ruin a relationship, too.
The other day, my hotel room didn’t have hot water. I stopped by the front desk on my way to breakfast and mentioned this issue to the receptionist. She promised maintenance will fix it. But after breakfast – still no hot water.
Turns out that I wasn’t the only person who experienced the problem. The person in line before me was having a progressively louder conversation with the receptionist about the same thing. I kept hearing “you” and “your” peppering his sentences, and saw the increasingly mulish look on the receptionist’s face… oh boy, I thought. This is not going well. Finally, the guest departed in a huff, saying he’ll never stay with this chain again.
When I approached the counter, I smiled at the receptionist. “Tough morning, huh?” I asked, and she nodded in response. “I hate to bring this up again, but the water is still cold,” I said. “Is there anything we can do about this?” The receptionist nodded again, enthusiastically. “Yes, ma’am! I’m authorized to give you a 25% comp on your room rate on my own, but if you’d like, I’ll speak with my manager this afternoon and we may be able to comp you more. I’m really sorry about the inconvenience.”
What was the difference between these two exchanges? The other guest took the hot water situation as a personal affront and went on to conflate the hotel staff with the problem - YOU are responsible for my inconvenience and what are YOU going to do about it?
Instead, I focused strictly on finding a solution to the problem and tried to make the receptionist my partner in this quest. To do that, I made the decision to assume that the receptionist wants to be helpful and that we’re both seeking a solution to a common problem. Then I used:
a quiet and friendly tone;
inclusive language (“we”); and
an open-ended question (in answer to the question I asked, she could have offered to let me use the shower in another room, for example).
In practical terms, a simple change from “you” to “we” can move mountains and opening up the discussion for everybody’s input is more likely to create a solution.
In the next post, I’ll discuss why most negotiations are won or lost before they even begin.
Want to know how you stack up as a negotiator? Take this fun quiz to assess your negotiation mojo!