I recently went to my very first rodeo, and I have to tell you, it’s kind of an awesome time. It’s a roomful of young men showing off what balls of steel they have, and trust me, watching them get thrown around on the back of a horse or a bull, you start to have a lot of faith in the steeliness.
Those guys weren’t the most impressive part of the rodeo for me, though. The part of the rodeo that was most impressive to me was, believe it or not, the announcer.
The announcer impressed me in part because he managed a skill I think every freelancer should have: how to work with a team of headstrong individuals, all of whom have different talents, without anyone wanting to kill him at the end of the show.
It’s a tough skill, and a lot of freelancers never get it. The problem is that most freelancers do work with a lot of headstrong individuals with different talents – their clients, other freelancers, their joint venture partners – and they often turn on one another.
Here’s your announcer’s guide to keeping anyone from getting gored in a sensitive spot.
Acknowledge How Difficult the Job Is
One of the first things we saw at the rodeo was a guy getting bucked off a horse in under a second. This was lightning-quick. It happened before you were even aware he was out of the gate.
For those of you who are (as I was) completely unfamiliar with rodeos, the idea is to stay on the horse for eight seconds, while the horse – which is a huge, strong animal – is doing everything in its not-inconsiderable power to get you the hell off its back.
So this guy doesn’t get anywhere near the eight seconds, and it’s a pretty sorry showing. In other sports, I’ve heard announcers be downright mean to the athlete who has a bad day. Think of basketball, when a player misses a three-pointer. The announcer talks smack.
Not our rodeo announcer, though. First thing he says is, “These guys have one of the hardest, most dangerous jobs in the world. That’s a lot of horse, and it is near impossible to stay on once he spins like that.”
Let’s think about this for a second. Say you’re a copywriter and you’re working with a designer to build a website. Let’s say further that the designer screws up something royally right off the bat. Do you think that maybe that designer is going to be more likely to try harder and make up for it if you a) call him an idiot or b) acknowledge that you don’t know how to do what he does and realize that it’s difficult?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
It also works for the client’s perspective. Instead of telling him the designer screwed up, why not give the designer a nod for learning a job that most people can’t do in the first place and acknowledge that sometimes a tough job gets the better of him? The client may not be thrilled about it, but he can definitely see that every now and then, something gets by even the most talented of us.
And you just helped him see it.
Consider the Past Victories
Before a cowboy ever got out of the gate, the announcer would run though this cowboy’s past achievements for the benefit of the crowd. Many of them had won awards or huge prize money for other rodeos, and some had been in the industry for years. Others had suffered injuries earlier in the season and had still gotten back in there to ride again.
This is a lot like the way freelancers decide who they’re going to be working with. They choose their clients, their colleagues, their venture partners based on previous record. A great record indicates that they’re going to do a great job this time around, too.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. The first draft doesn’t hit the mark, something goes wrong with the coding, someone makes a recommendation that’s just flat wrong.
Harping on the failure doesn’t do much, but it’s hard not to when you’re upset about it. Take a cue from our rodeo announcer, though, and keep the past victories in mind. This is someone whose work you respect and admire. They’re allowed to have an off day every now and then without you losing your cool.
So take a deep breath. Remind yourself why you wanted to start working with this person in the first place. And remind them, too. “I asked you to do this job with me because you’ve always done great work in the past, and I know you can do it for this job.”
Which brings us to the next item on the list: faith.
You Gotta Have Faith
Whenever a cowboy got bucked off in a particularly bad ride, the announcer would often suggest that the next run would be better. This wasn’t false confidence; it was real. He knew that the cowboy was capable of a great ride and while he was sorry the last one didn’t turn out well, he had no reason to expect that this was a permanent state of affairs.
Many freelancers make this error when working with others. One mistake, and they’re already talking about how this person can’t do their job. Two mistakes, and you might as well hang yourself.
Consider, though, how hard freelancers work and how difficult our jobs really are. Many people don’t have these skills – which is why they hire us to do them. If we screw up the first time, there’s no reason to think we’re not going to be able to get back up on the horse (forgive the metaphor) and do better the next time around.
Giving that encouragement and expressing that faith for the people you work with boosts their confidence and makes them want to shine when they do come back for a second try. No one performs well when their client or their colleague expects them to do poorly. If you expect a great second round and say so, you’ll find that other freelancer will strive to achieve it.
They don’t want to let you down – not when you have faith in them.
I’ve had my first rodeo, and I’ve written my first blog post about it. I think I’m officially a Colorado girl now. Or I will be, right after I figure out how to shear a sheep.