Negotiation has three major steps: planning, engagement and closure, but knowing these isn’t enough to breeze through the negotiations you have to do at work. Negotiation skills for project managers are on the long list of soft skills that project leaders should seek to improve, but how do you do that?
In this article, we discuss why negotiation skills are important for project managers and share some tips for how you can improve your own.
Why Negotiation is Important for Project Managers
We use our negotiation skills every day. From reasoning with a 5-year old about what they can have for breakfast, to discuss who gets the car or picks up the shopping with your partner. We negotiate our way through life – and project management is no different.
In a project management context, especially on strategic projects, negotiation is essential. Here are some situations where your ability to negotiate weighs heavily on your ability to deliver the project successfully.
- You are involved in the strategic negotiations with vendors about the goods and services they have to offer the project. Through skilled discussion, you find a scenario which is a good outcome for them and also a positive win for your company.
- You are negotiating the involvement of a contractor on a project. By looking at the commitment they need from your organisation, and how you can work together to effectively deliver the project, you both end up in situations that your managers will be happy with.
- You are talking to senior stakeholders and trying to secure their involvement and support in a new transformative change project. By explaining the rationale for the work in ways that make it easy for the stakeholders to get on board, you ensure they will back the project and provide the resources you need. Meanwhile, your project will provide vital exposure and development opportunities for their team members, so it feels like a successful deal all round.
Being able to negotiate opens the door to more supportive stakeholders, better relationships with your clients and a more positive working environment where everyone feels they are getting something out of the engagements.
Negotiation and Conflict
Negotiating can also be a useful strategy to deal with conflict on a project. While it’s almost impossible to avoid conflict totally, being able to negotiate your way around it is a handy skill.
Conflict often has the ability to bring a project to a grinding halt. If you can win people over and defuse the situation through creating a positive outcome for everyone (or at least something people can live with) then that will keep your project moving forward.
Negotiation is also a useful skill to have in a less ‘transactional’ role, for example when you are mediating between two team members, or trying to establish common ground for requirements when stakeholders disagree about what the project should deliver.
Improving Your Negotiation Skills
So how do you improve your negotiation skills? As negotiating is something you probably do every day, it’s actually not that difficult to find moments to focus on doing it better. Here are 5 tips to think about.
The first thing to do is to get a lot of practice! Notice when you are negotiating – you probably do it more often than you think. Watch how you approach a negotiating situation, how it makes you feel and what you think could go better next time.
- Get prepared
Next time, spend a little effort in preparing for the negotiation. If you know you are meeting a supplier, think through what might be in it for them and what you want to get out of any deal. Consider the alternative contract terms, and what you have the authority to commit to.
Be clear about the outcomes you would consider brilliant, OK and unacceptable.
Then you will go into the discussion feeling more confident and also knowing how you want the conversation to end. However, remember to stay open to their points as well. It isn’t a negotiation if you refuse to shift your position and force through an outcome you decided on long before your supplier ever arrived in the room.
- Manage your emotions
Conflict situations and negotiations often bring out the worst in people! Be prepared for how you are likely to react in a difficult and perhaps awkward conversation. Think about what you feel like during pauses in the conversation, for example, and try to get comfortable with silent thinking time.
- Allow enough time
Remember that negotiations are often ongoing. It’s unlikely that you’ll have one meeting and get everything sorted out. For large contracts, there could be multiple meetings with the vendor and then their legal team to ensure that everything is documented effectively, to the satisfaction of both parties. And even when the deal is done, you may find yourself negotiating finer details, or new terms, to keep the project moving along in the right direction.
When you prepare for a negotiation, you put a lot of effort into thinking about what you are going to say, how to say it, how to respond to what you think the other person is going to say. You also need to be prepared to listen.
Listening will help you identify pain points for the other party. It will help you really understand what they want, when perhaps they don’t even know that themselves in a way they can articulate.
When you are actively listening, you are more likely to be able to formulate a response that the other person thinks is acceptable. And that’s what you want.
It can also help to learn the dynamics of competitive and collaborative models of negotiation, so that you recognise them and can use them more easily.
Understanding the theory, and having the opportunity to practice it in the classroom – a “safe” environment – will give you the confidence to test out those skills back in the workplace.
A negotiation skills training course will give you those foundations as well as let you test out the fundamental skills of other delegates, while receiving feedback.
Whether you are involved in formal negotiations with suppliers or not, you’ll find it easier to do so many things as a project manager when you have confidence in your ability to negotiate.
As there are so many opportunities to negotiate in our working lives on project teams, it should be relatively easy to find time to practice these skills.
Like all soft skills, knowing how to have challenging conversations that result in good outcomes for both parties is something that we can improve over time.
With the right knowledge, the structures and techniques, and some practice and effort, you’ll be able to face negotiating knowing that you can do your best for your project and your business.
What’s your top tip for negotiating on a project? Let us know by tweeting us @2080StrategyEx. We’d love to hear your thoughts.