Negotiation and Project Management

by Posted @ Aug 29 2018


When I was in graduate school getting my MBA, my focus centered around negotiation and mediation. At the time, I thought I wanted to become a professional mediator, but I soon realized that I didn’t really want to get pulled into disputes between neighbors about barking dogs or get in the middle of messy and sometimes crazy divorces. Nevertheless, I learned a lot of valuable negotiation tips, tactics, and core principles that I carry over into my role at Go Fish Digital.

When I’m negotiating, especially with clients, I keep these three goals in mind:

  1. Reaching an Agreement That Satisfies the Partner
  2. Creating More Efficiency
  3. Building Better Relationships

Out of all of the goals, I resonate with the third one the most. Thriving relationships are valuable when you’re working with clients, and it’s important to me to start every partnership on the right foot. By building a great relationship with a client, I can get a better understanding of them and their needs, which yields more creative deals and collaborations. Also, my client gains a deeper trust for me and Go Fish Digital, which enhances the overall buy-in and implementation process.

Every client comes to you with heightened expectations, inconsistent abilities to implement changes, and varying degrees of buy-in. So, when discussing deliverables with clients, they can sometimes be hesitant or want something very different from what is recommended. In these situations, having good negotiation skills is integral for moving the project, and relationship, forward.

The Four Basic Steps in Inventing Options

Sometimes complex situations with clients will require you to “invent options” to help solve problems.  The steps below (which originally come from Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton of the Harvard Negotiation Project) can help navigate this invention process.  And if all goes well and these steps are followed, the specific action that you or the group created will solve the original problem.

  1. Look at the problem. What is wrong, what are the symptoms and what is the reality versus the desired future?
  2. Analyze.  Sort symptoms into groups, find the possible causes and search for what could be missing. Then, work to uncover any possible barriers to solving the issue.
  3. Approaches to the solution. What are the possible strategies and theoretical fixes to the problem based on your analysis? There can be can many, try to exhaust all possibilities before moving to the next step.
  4. Take Action. What are the specific steps that need to be taken to meet the goals of the group.

I love the art of negotiation because in order to be a good negotiator, you have to find the equity of every possible scenario. A good negotiator works to, as my amazing teacher Susan G. Williams, Ph. D. would always say, “expand the pie”. Expanding the pie is a more integrative negotiation process which adds elements to a negotiation to help both sides gain more.

This type of negotiation adds value and prevents a zero-sum decision where one party’s gain is another party’s loss. You want everyone to win, so you are expanding the proverbial pie instead of splitting it up. When you do everything in your power to create a win-win situation, everyone will want to work together to create a larger pie where both can have more elements with the same or close to the same percentage division.

During negotiations, you should do what you can to make sure the pie is expanding. Try not to fall victim to shortsightedness and put yourself in the client’s shoes. It’s also a good idea to have a firm grasp of what their questions and concerns may be. And, if you sense that their concerns could derail your partnership, you may need to consider changing the scope of the proposed agreement.

For instance, if you have always done something a certain way and your client’s needs call for a change in form and function, it’s your job to try and find a way to accommodate that change. Sometimes the answer has to be no. But, more often than not, if you tweak a few things and update expectations, an adjusted agreement can be made. This is especially good to keep in mind when your client’s bottom line is to just walk away and find another agency. Collaboration and transparency will always work in your favor, so be patient and continue to communicate with your client through tough discussions.

Key Phrases to Help Open Lines of Communication

Even in the best situations, you are guaranteed to come across instances where there is a need for clarification or conflict. Here is a list of phrases that have helped me temper tense disagreements or misunderstandings.

  • “Please, correct me if I’m wrong.”
  • “Help me understand.”
  • “I am not sure about that (figure, issue, project), I don’t have enough information yet.”
  • “You know, I thought we had an agreement on principle, but if we may, can we go back and work out the details at a later time?”
  • “Did I understand you correctly when you said…?”
  • “I am not clear on (xyz), can you please explain in a bit more detail?”
  • “I understand, but what standard did you use to determine that?”
  • “Let me get back to you on that.”
  • “Let me show you (tell you) where I have trouble following where you are coming from (understanding your reasoning).”
  • “One fair solution might be…”
  • “Would you like to reconvene at a later time?”
  • “I hear and understand your concerns.”
  • “Tell me more.”
  • “What is important to you?”
  • “Just to clarify…”
  • “I can see where you are coming from.”
  • “Could you be more specific?”
  • “You know, your anger feels more like a tactic.”
  • When they get louder, do not match pitch.
  • Be silent.

And, remember – negotiations are more than just a deal to be made. They are a way to validate the passions and perceptions that your clients bring to the table. Using my tips, and keeping your clients’ needs at the forefront, you are sure to be successful in your future negotiations.

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