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Self Representation – what makes it so hard?

written by MO.com Subject Matter Resource Kim Ades

The other day I was speaking with a relatively new coaching client of mine – he was describing how he negotiated $500,000,000 deals for the company he worked for and how negotiating was one of his strengths. He talked about how it was easy for him to read body language and make sure all parties left the negotiation table feeling like they won. He also talked about his ability to handle the awkward silences even if they dragged on a little too long, and his ability to walk away from the deal if it wasn’t serving his company. He became known for this skill and trusted by his company to represent them in a big way. Without a doubt, he’s the kind of guy you’d want on your team any day.

Yet our coaching revealed an interesting discovery… he’s not quite as strong when it comes to negotiating for himself. It’s not that he is reduced to mush, but rather, we discovered that he is just not quite as diligent when he is representing himself. He has a subtle Achilles heel. He is more vulnerable when he is negotiating for himself and while he appears completely calm and relaxed on the outside, he is somewhat nervous in the inside and sometimes the results in his personal life are less than ideal.

He’s not the only one. Another one of my clients is the VP of sales for a large company. Her claim to fame is teaching her sales team to get full price for their services – eliminating discounts completely. Yet, this same all mighty VP feels guilty taking time off work for a 30 minute lunch break and had an even harder time negotiating an increase in salary after being handed twice the responsibility. She would go to the wall instantly if she had to defend any member of her team, but self-representation poses a more complex challenge.

This is quite a common phenomenon, even among those who appear to be very strong and powerful.

Why does this happen?

1. Fear of loss – There is a perception that the risk is disproportionately higher when one is representing themselves. The effect is the feeling that there is more to lose and thus a greater vulnerability is exposed in personal representation. People who fear loss will accept less than ideal circumstances.

2. Fear of being unable to recover – Great negotiators are able to imagine the worst-case scenario and accept the possibility of this outcome. Leaders who have a challenge with self-representation are also able to imagine the worst-case scenario, however, this is where they stop, and this is what causes a weakness. They have a strong intuitive sense for how bad the ‘blow’ will be if things go wrong but they do not have a strong intuitive sense for their ability to recover from the blow.

3. Big Shoulder Syndrome – Often these kinds of leaders take on a lot of responsibility and step up as the hero for others. They are usually the ‘go-to person’ who is often trusted to contribute more than their fair share. While being the ‘hero’ is appealing, these kinds of people will often find themselves being overlooked or taken advantage of in work-place situations and standing up for themselves is often a challenge. Over-commitment is common, resulting in stress and exhaustion.

What should one do if self-representation is a challenge?

1. Make a habit of delaying major decisions in order to think them through in an environment that is free of pressure.

2. Journaling helps to sort through the variety of emotions that drive behavior. It helps to make a more rational decision and one that is more consistent with your values.

3. Spend a little bit of time envisioning a failure or a poor outcome, and then spend even more time imagining your recovery from that fall. Don’t forget to imagine an ideal outcome too. The process of envisioning success can help build your courage when standing up for yourself is a little tricky.

4. Bounce your thoughts off of a trusted coach, mentor, or friend. Using a sounding board will help to clear up your real motivations towards or away from any major decision. When you talk to someone who really knows you, they are often able to ask critical questions that help you make decisions with greater ease.

5. In some cases it helps to ask others to step in on your behalf to help you with negotiations and managing commitments.


Kim Ades, MBA, is president and founder of Frame of Mind Coaching and JournalEngine™ Software. She is one of North America’s foremost experts on performance through thought management. She works exclusively with highly driven, accomplished professionals in their field and uses the unique Frame of Mind Coaching process to ignite significant change and life transformation. Clients say that an hour with Kim has lifelong impact.

She is internationally renowned for her innovation and passion in the coaching industry. With clients from Malaysia, to South Africa, Canada, and the US, Kim and her team of coaches have transformed the process of coaching and training through the creation of JournalEngine™ Software. Author, speaker, entrepreneur, coach, and mother of 5, Kim has developed a thriving coaching business and implemented a simple idea into an industry leading company that now coaches leaders in their field worldwide.

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