You’ve come to That Place in a negotiation.
Your client won’t sign off on the final product if you don’t retroactively assign him the rights to the work and you won’t do that because a large portion of the project is stuff you use with three other clients. And this is after you’ve given this guy a huge discount and rearranged other projects to meet his demanding time line.
And what’s worse, you’re stuck and time keeps marching on. You’re not going to be able to stay in this stand-off forever.
Often times this is the point in a negotiation where you cave. This is where you decide, for the benefit of the relationship or the benefit of your pocket book, to give into their ridiculous demands. You agree to something you think is dumb or that is guaranteed to make your life more difficult.
You don’t have to give in, though. There is another way.
First thing you have to do: stop paying attention to the negotiation. By which I mean, stop paying attention to what isn’t working. Because let’s face it, you’ve been putting an extraordinary amount of attention into who is doing (or not doing) what to whom and it hasn’t produced the results you want.
You can continue to worry over every last little thing that’s led to the current quagmire, or you can do something different. Me, I like to stop doing the thing that sucks and move on to something more pleasant.
But, you know, follow your bliss.
What the heck is going on with you? Are other interests getting in your way? Are you reacting to their tactics rather than the deal itself? What is the story you’ve been telling yourself about the negotiation and why do you believe it?
When you’re OK, it’s a lot easier to divorce yourself from a negotiation that’s tanking and evaluate what’s going on. When you’re not OK, it’s easy to take things personally and get stuck on That Thing They Did That Was Mean.
The worst thing you can do to yourself at this point is convince yourself that you don’t have any other choice but continue on with the negotiation.
You always have a choice in a negotiation, and that choice is your back-up plan.
Take that puppy out and figure out what it can tell you about what you should do in this negotiation.
If you realize your back-up plan is better than the negotiation: use it.
So, let’s say, after all of this work, you realize the negotiation really is the best thing for you to do. How do you make this mess better??
Resist the urge to negotiate little things away to show off what a great person you are. Negotiations can be big long processes and sometimes it feels efficient to get “little things” off the table early. Don’t.
You’d never sit down to a complicated job and decide to give all your red paints to your studio-mate, or remove the “M” key from your keyboard. Both of those things are “little things” in context of a large project, but you know they could severely limit what you do if you give them up at the beginning. You’ll be forced to make choices because they’re not there, instead of the choices you can make when they’re available.
Little things in a negotiation, whether payment is due net 30 or net 15, or how quickly the art needs to be returned to you after the show, are like the red paint and the “M” key. Giving them up early on means you can’t use them to build the negotiation later.
Instead, keep track of them, and once everything is out on the table, see which pieces work together to make the best result.
If you’ve already given up a bunch of little things and are now stuck, start over. If the other side is willing to clear the table and start over with you because they’re frustrated, excellent! If they don’t want to give up an inch, start over on your own.
If all of those little pieces were back on the table, knowing what you do about the other side’s interests, what kind of solution would you build? How would you use those pieces to build a solution that’s good for both of you?
Take the solution you build to the other side and tell them: “We’re stuck if we keep hammering away at the current solution, and that means neither one of us will get what we want. What if we did things this way?”
The worst that happens is they say, “No,” which is no worse than where you are right now.
The times when this can feel the scariest is when the thing you’re negotiating feels directly tied to achieving one of your goals. You might be in a negotiation with a publisher about publishing your first book, or with an agent about taking you on as a client. In those situations, doing something other than staying in the negotiation can feel like you’re walking away from your goal.
You’re not. Your goal is bigger than any one negotiation. You know that because you know when you’re sitting down to sketch out your interests and build back-up plans that there are 100 different ways to solve even the smallest problems.
Do not trick yourself into believing that any one project is your goal. If it is, you’re selling yourself short.
That doesn’t mean that particular projects aren’t important and that you shouldn’t feel a bit intimidated by negotiating them. But there is a huge difference between feeling intimidated and convincing yourself that you have to accept less than what you’re worth in order to achieve your goal.
Part of the reason I’m such a big proponent of writing out your goals, interests, alternatives, etc., is that those things can help you focus on the bigger picture when you get scared or overwhelmed. They can help you think through what to do and what is in your best interest.
Negotiations get stuck all the time. When you do the work to figure out your interests, alternatives & goals, you give yourself the tools to get out of That Place and on to something better.