the art of not assuming


My friend Zarah is a gifted mentor whose specialty is helping you access and pay attention to your inner wisdom, your intuition. What I especially love about her approach is how she balances it with practicalities—the day-to-day nuts-and-bolts of living your life and running your business. And I just plain love her writing. It’s both expressive and to-the-point.

Today her email reminded me of something that comes up a lot when I’m helping artists with negotiations.

First, Zarah’s pithy email…

Dear Friends,

Make a decision, make it right.

Get good at problem solving.

Follow through.

Have patience.

Be outcome neutral.

Balance strategy and action, a bit more action.

You are ok, right now in the moment. String those moments together.

It is all possible. If it is not achieved, you are still loved.

Then, a conversation I had this morning with a client…. He’s frustrated by slow progress on a negotiation. It requires a lot of email back-and-forth, and there’s a certain diplomacy that’s required, of course, so each new email requires careful consideration. Let’s not kid ourselves here, negotiations are challenging! When he gives me the updates, though, I recognize that he’s making it a little harder than it needs to be. This is because he’s making assumptions about what the other person is thinking.

He’s not alone, right? This seems to be a really human thing to do. I’m struck by how frequently we’re all trying to read minds, to guess what other people are thinking, to make assumptions—and to act, react, or choose not to act based on those assumptions. And to make it worse, those assumptions often seem to have a negative flavor about them. “He’s not returning my emails because he doesn’t want to work with me.” “She’s asking me to consider that because she doesn’t want to do it the way I do.” In a sense, we assume a “no” from the other side, even though we haven’t actually received one!

What if we approached things differently? It’s not that I believe we’re going to magically stop making assumptions, but what if we learned to spot ourselves doing it much more quickly? Then: stop in our tracks, take a deep breath, realign with what we want to achieve, and see how we can respond with that focus. Of course, you’ll want to demonstrate an understanding and respect for what the other person has explicitly told you. But you don’t need to assume an unspoken “no.” And you don’t have to make the already challenging circumstance of being in a negotiation even more challenging by trying to mind-read!

So, how did Zarah’s email help me think about all this? When she says “Make a decision, make it right,” I think of right as being in alignment with my desires, values and intentions. Start from that place.

“Get good at problem solving,” to me, means: When I’m faced with a challenge (say, a message that seems to be telling me I can’t have what I want, or that is just plain confusing), instead of speculating and reading between the lines, I’ll look with clear eyes at what’s actually being said and no more. If something is unclear, I’ll ask straightforwardly for clarification. I’ll remember what I want, see where there may still be room for agreement, and optimistically respond accordingly.

“Be outcome neutral” suggests that I’ll be better off if I don’t cling to an expected response (i.e. make more assumptions).

“Balance strategy and action, a bit more action” reminds me not to spend too much time on the problem solving part, that it’s helpful to keep the ball in play.

Her last two lines, “You are ok… you are still loved” give me the confidence to take the action, despite that still-fearful voice inside that wants to spend more time mind-reading and assuming in an attempt to reach a conclusion. It never hurts to be reminded: the outcome of these negotiations is not life or death.

I find that when I practice this—and yes, I have to practice it myself all the time—the communication feels more like gliding through water than slogging through mud. And, when I gently encourage the artists I work with to give it a try, I love hearing the sigh of relief. A negotiation may be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle.

A big part of what we do here at F13 is helping artists learn to be more confident advocates for themselves. While negotiations may always provoke some degree of stress, there are many ways you can make them easier on yourself, and we’ll share more tips like this in the future. So tell us, what freaks you out about negotiations? How can we help?

I also hope you'll check out Zarah's work!