Fostering Relationships: Negotiating With Your Advisor

I teach leadership to thousands of young people and professionals every year. One common question I get often from student leaders is, "How do I get things done when my advisor keeps saying no and shutting me down?"

Here are the strategies I shared with a recent group of young leaders:

1. Understand why they are saying no. A good amount of their motivation for saying no (especially if they are a veteran advisor) is because they have been burned by previous students in your position who have had great ideas or wild ideas that the student didn't follow through on and the situation ended up with the advisor having to do all the work. Your advisor may also have constraints or barriers that are only visible to them (administration pressure, peer pressure, funding limits, school rules, etc.) and sometimes it may be quicker and easier for them to use the strategy of just saying no instead of doing what they should do which is to say no (if they have a valid reason), explain to you why they are saying no and then helping you come up with an idea that will work.

2. Which brings us to strategy number two, when you approach your advisor (either on the local, state or national levels) be prepared for a no response. Ie - don't get so emotionally invested in an idea or project before you seek approval that a no is going to totally topple you.

3. If you do get a no response, ask for an explanation why and start going to plan B with them. Plan B should be a version of Plan A with compromises made. This is where the negotiation strategies begin. This will demonstrate a few things: you are committed to the idea at least enough to fight for it, you are willing to work with them, and you have put enough thought into your idea to actually have plan B. And of course, have a Plan C, D, and E ready also.

4. There are some strategies you can employ to give your plan A a fighting chance right off the bat though:

A. Do as much information gathering beforehand as possible. Find out school/organization policies, do market research, get your team together, etc.

B. Do some initial work to demonstrate your commitment to the project. Now, it is important not to do too much and it is important not to use that pre-work as a bargaining chip. Ie. don't say, "But how can you say no? Look at all the work we have already done!" This is a negative negotiation strategy that will cost you trust chips with your advisor, not earn them.

C. Be ready to answer questions from your advisor to support and sell your idea. Most ideas get shot down early not because they are bad ideas, but because they didn't have someone doing a good enough job championing them.

Good luck and if you need specific help with your specific struggle, feel free to email me at rhett @ yournextspeaker.com. Or send me a Facebook message - Rhett Laubach.

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