ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

Stop Trying to Win

By April 13, 2009May 26th, 2016Strictly Business Blog

The other day, in CivPro class (in case you didn’t know, I’m in law school), one of the students couldn’t seem to understand why the professor wouldn’t help him find a way around a basic rule of discovery. The student couldn’t accept that he should give up anything that might hurt his case! He might not win then! The prof pointed out that he might think he’d win this way, but he’d more likely get disbarred and sued by his client for malpractice. Short term = maybe win, long term = ruin reputation & career.

Besides, the prof pointed out, the Law (cap L), like most things, is not really about winning. It is about doing the best thing for your client–and sometimes, most of the time, that is settling a case. It is through an open give-and-take that both sides end up with a fair and equitable solution to their problem, and if you can do that without ending up in court, great!

Any dispute is, at its heart, about one core issue. That issue is shared by both sides. It is the metal of the coin, and each party is one of that coin’s faces. In photography, for example, a client wants images for its website as inexpensively as possible and a photographer wants to make those images but get paid a high fee for it. Same issue, two sides. If either side focuses on winning, they BOTH lose. If the client pushes for cheap, it will likely get images that aren’t as good as they need to be for the purpose (and probably from another photographer). If the photographer pushes to getting $X, the client will bolt. But if they focus, together, on finding a good spot they can both live with, in the middle someplace, the problem disappears. No one “wins”–the problem just vanishes and both sides get what they need (and some of what they want). You can’t get “there” without taking the risk of being fully open.

Okay, that sounds fine in theory, but we all know that clients can be very pushy about their side (btw, so can photographers!). That is understandable–there is a lot of pressure on the buyer. What this often means is that it is up to the photographer to take the lead, and to lead well. The photographer must look past the games the buyer may try. The best way to do this is to listen to your client more than you speak, especially early on, and to offer solutions rather than drawing lines in the sand. Let them be jerks but don’t react. Like a therapist once told me, when someone else is pitching a fit, that is about them, not you.

Basically, I’m suggesting you kill ‘em with kindness. Learn the communicative technique of mirroring, also really listen, commiserate, and try to get them to say what would work for them. For example, try “Let’s work together to find some way to limit the usage so that I can get to the price you need” and “Would it help you if we did this project for one year usage and I guarantee the relicensing prices for the future?” Talk about their feelings (“I know you are afraid I might jack the prices up on you later–I want to make sure you feel secure that I won’t do that”) and acknowledge their worries as legitimate. That technique will help build trust.

And that trust will help you both end up in the best place for both of you. Then you can get on with the real work of making great images (for a fair price) and your client can feel secure they are getting great work at a fair price.