Learn to Use Your Creative Insights at the Bargaining Table

Ted Leonhardt
Ted Leonhardt



zebra“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras” goes the quote from Dr. Theodore Woodward, who was instructing medical students not to let their intuition lead them astray. I never studied medicine, but that quote always reminds me to look for the obvious reason the person across the bargaining table is behaving the way they are and to examine my insights very carefully before acting on them.

People’s behavior is always driven by something. It’s no accident when your opposite is aggressive, or elusive, or in a hurry to close. This is an area where your creatively enhanced insights are to your advantage.

Learning to use your creative insights at the bargaining table will help you uncover the other’s underlying interests and better understand how you can help. And, given the poor state of compensation for creatives, we need all the help we can get.

Creatives are vastly underpaid in our society. Think about it: The world around us was conceived and built by intuitive, creative people. Some intuitive person discovered how to use fire, and others conceived the wheel and every other invention since. Yet, on average, lawyers are paid five times what creatives receive in major cities. I’ve nothing against lawyers, but why? It’s simple really, lawyers are much more comfortable asking for the money. What’s good for them is bad for us.

It’s a dilemma that stems from the depths of our creative roots. Creatives are more in touch with their feelings than the general population. Our vulnerabilities, which are closer to the surface, can burden us with uncomfortable feelings and unwanted physical reactions when we face the stress brought on by negotiations. The very sensitivities that we use to make our work connect emotionally with others becomes a liability at the bargaining table. They are a liability unless we learn to expect the feelings and use our sensitivities to understand what’s really going on and guide our actions. Then our insights and intuitions become a powerful advantage.

Behavior is always the result of something. We humans are predictable:

  • Is your opposite being aggressive? Why?
  • Are they in a hurry? What’s the hurry about?
  • Does something not feel right? What could it be?

Ask yourself what’s going on. Add the feelings of the moment to what you know about the other person and the situation. Ask a question. “You seem to be in a hurry. Should we move our conversation to another time?” Listen to the answer and compose an appropriate follow-up question, all with the goal of uncovering what is or is not the best way forward for both of you.

The more questions you ask and the closer you listen to the replies, the more you’ll be able to separate the horses from the zebras. But best of all, you’re genial questioning, coupled with asking for what you need monetarily, will gain the person's respect. And respect leads to increased compensation.

Lawyers have known this for years. It’s our turn now. 

Topics: Creativity

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