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Are you sometimes your own worst enemy?  Do you find excuses for why you can’t or won’t do something?    Let’s look at some misconceptions about negotiation that may be keeping you from getting more, because negotiation is the fastest money you will make or lose.

Misconception #1:  Negotiation isn’t relevant for me.

Often, people associate negotiation with labor union vs. management disputes.  They envision picket lines and angry people shouting across the table at one another. It’s not surprising, therefore, that artists might shudder at the thought of any association with it, believing that nice guys don’t engage in such distasteful practices. But union negotiations are just one of many types of negotiation situations.

In fact, we negotiate daily with nearly everyone we encounter, in business and in our personal lives. Procuring funding from a wealthy patron is a negotiation; so is deciding whose turn it is to walk the dog. Because resources are so precious for artists, it’s critical to acquire good negotiation skills in order to stretch your resources as far as possible.

Misconception #2: Negotiation is not socially acceptable.

Some of our misconceptions about negotiation are cultural.  Most Americans do not grow up learning to negotiate.  Words such as haggling or chiseling add to the negative connotations of negotiation.  But, bargaining is a way of life in 75% of the world!  It’s accepted, it’s expected and it’s respected.

Learning to negotiate provides a double payback.  You will benefit when you are in the role of the seller, e.g., selling an artwork, as well as when you are the buyer, e.g., purchasing things you need for your studio or your personal life.  Both will improve your bottom line.

Simply put, negotiation is seeking agreement.  It need not be a contentious process.  William Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes, defines negotiation as a discussion leading to agreement or to the decision to walk away and pursue other alternatives. Another definition: Negotiation is the art of persuading someone to do something they don’t want to do. My personal favorite: it’s letting other people have it your way. However you define it, you are negotiating every day, whether you recognize it as such or not.

Misconception #3:  Negotiation is a business skill, so I won’t do well.

Historically, negotiation has been considered an art; ergo the “art of negotiation”.  Indeed, negotiation involves interpersonal skills, the ability to convince and be convinced, and to know how and when to employ various negotiation tactics: these activities engage the creative side of the brain.  Yet many artists consider negotiation a business skill, and therefore harbor the misconception that it is something they would not be good at.  Given the context of negotiation as an art, this is simply not true.

More recently, negotiation has also been recognized as a science, in that it involves systematic analysis for problem solving.  In his book, The Art and Science of Negotiation, Professor Howard Raiffa purports that less is known about the scientific side, though research continues in this area.

One thing is certain:  there is no shortage of disputes.  Raiffa (and most other professional negotiators) believes that, “many disputes could be more efficiently reconciled if the negotiators were more skillful.”  So artists, let’s get started.


The first step in becoming a good negotiator is to develop a negotiation mindset. Everything can be negotiated, but you have to ask. The other party isn’t going to willingly give up profits or savings to you if you don’t ask for them.  Would you?

As validation for the above, I turn to research by Professor Deepak Malhotra, who is currently on the faculty at Harvard Business School.

The research stems from a negotiation class that Professor Malhotra was teaching at the Kellogg School of Management, to students who worked during the day and took classes at night. Professor Malhotra asked the students to negotiate something in real life and turn in a written report about the experience. Thirty-five of the forty-five students negotiated something for themselves; the remaining ten negotiated something work-related. The results were impressive: for those who negotiated something for themselves, the median savings was $2200; those who negotiated something for their employer produced a median savings of $390,000. These results are testimony to the power of negotiation training. But even more illuminating is the students’ response to the question of what tactic they used to attain this success. The students reported, “Choosing to negotiate at all.”

If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Negotiation opportunities present themselves on a daily basis, but if you don’t adopt a negotiation mindset, you may not recognize them. You can choose to seize these opportunities or to ignore them and get less.

As with anything, practice makes perfect, so use situations where the stakes are low to practice your negotiation skills for catching bigger fish.  For example, if I want cremini mushrooms for a recipe I’m making, but the grocery store is out of them, I ask for a discount on the white mushrooms I purchase as a substitute.  I’m a regular customer; their job is to have basic ingredients in stock.  They’re happy to accommodate my request.  It’s not about the $2.00 per pound that I save, though that adds up over time.  It’s about practicing my negotiation skills, so that I’ll be ready when I face a $2,000 negotiation.  These small negotiations do not take much time. They require only that you have a negotiation mindset and the confidence to ask.


Because of its universal applicability to work situations, many employers give preference to candidates with negotiation training. If you are an artist who is seeking employment or advancement in your current position, good negotiation skills can help your profile cut through the clutter and give you a competitive edge.

Copyright Nancy J. Fox, January 2012


This article is the first in a series of posts that will appear at the beginning of each month as part of the strategic partnership between Negotiation Fox and GYS*T Ink.