Effective negotiating is critical to successful collaboration. All it takes is one key problem to explode to convert a sense of “we” into “us versus them.” At the same time, negotiating is pervasive through all aspects of project management work.

Successful Negotiating – Requirements

  • Project managers must negotiate support and funding from top management.
  • They must negotiate staff and technical input from functional managers.
  • They must coordinate with other project managers and negotiate project priorities and commitments.
  • They must negotiate within their project team to determine assignments, deadlines, standards, and priorities.
  • Project managers must negotiate prices and standards with vendors and suppliers.

A firm understanding or the negotiating process, skills, and tactics is essential to project success.

How we approach negotiations

Many people approach negotiating as if it is a competitive contest. Each negotiator is out to win as much as he or she can for his or her side. Success is measured by how much is gained compared with the other party. While this may be applicable when negotiating the sale of a house, it is not true for project management.

Project management is not a contest!

  • First, the people working on the project, whether they represent different companies or departments within the same organization, are not enemies or competitors but rather allies or partners. They have formed a temporary alliance to complete a project. For this alliance to work requires a certain degree of trust, cooperation, and honesty.
  • Second, although the parties within this alliance may have different priorities and standards, they are bound by the success of the project. If conflicts escalate to the point where negotiations break down and the project comes to a halt, then everyone loses.
  • Third, unlike bartering with a street vendor, the people involved on project work have to continue to work together. Therefore, it behooves them to resolve disagreements in a way that contributes to the long-term effectiveness of their working relationship.
  • Finally, as pointed out in this article, conflict on a project can be good. When dealt with effectively it can lead to innovation, better decisions, and more creative problem solving.

One Proposed Solution

Project managers accept this noncompetitive view of negotiation and realize that negotiation is essentially a two-part process:

  • The first part deals with reaching an agreement;
  • The second part is the implementation of that agreement.

It is the implementation phase, not the agreement itself, that determines the success of negotiations. All too often, managers reach an agreement with someone only to find out later that they failed to do what they agreed to do or that their actual response fell far short of expectations.

Experienced project managers recognize that implementation is based on satisfaction not only with the outcome but also with the process by which the agreement was reached. If someone feels bullied or tricked into doing something, this feeling will invariably be reflected by halfhearted performance.

Veteran project managers do the best they can to merge individual interests with what is best for the project and come up with effective solutions to problems.

Conclusion

Fisher and Ury from the Harvard Negotiation Project champion an approach to negotiating that embodies these goals. It emphasizes developing win/win solutions while protecting yourself against those who would take advantage of your forthrightness.

Their approach is called principled negotiation and is based on four key points listed and discussed in the following article:

  1. Separate the people from the problem
  2. Focus on interests, not positions
  3. Invent options for mutual gain
  4. When possible, use objective criteria

 

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