Negotiation skills for project managers

An absolutely key skill that no project manager can go out without is basic negotiation skills.
From achieving consensus among stakeholders to getting the right procurement contract and managing exceptions, the one thing you absolutely MUST HAVE is the ability to negotiate effectively.

Here’s a few golden rules to help you negotiate more effectively whatever your position may be:

  • 1. Always aim to start and end your negotiation procedure on a high note. Be positive going in and be positive when you walk away from it, whether it is an adjournment for another day or the final handshake time. What I mean by leaving on a high note is that everyone should feel that they have achieved something, even if they worked hard for it and that they could comfortably return to do business with you again.
  • 2. Create a terms of reference at the outset. This will often be a fairly low key statement that frames the negotiations as opposed to a formal written invitation, but one way or another it is important that everyone knows what is at stake and why they are doing it.
  • 3. Decide in advance what your walk away scenario is, and what you want out of it and make sure the negotiating team are all clear on this. Place nobody on the team who might have any reservations about your goals.
  • 4. Research the other side and gather every scrap of useful information that might help you to understand their goals and to predict their walk away positions. Have at least one team member monitoring this closely and briefing you.
  • 5. Decide your beginning position and bear in mind that this will have a substantial impact on the outcome. E.G. In a sale negotiation it is proven that the higher price at which you begin the higher price you will reach agreement at. It is also useful to recognise that too high a starting point may prevent the negotiations beginning.
  • 6. If possible retain a refer-to authority that allows you to take time out before deciding and find out if the other side has one.
  • 7. Drink water twenty minutes before beginning, it is believed to make you concentrate better. Take a walk at least 15 minutes at break time, it encourages reflection and new ideas.
  • 8. Listen attentively to the other side, question every point and every request until it is crystal clear before making any attempt to respond to it and keep your own notes separate from any minutes.
  • 9. If you reach a situation at any point where you are not able to get agreement, set that point aside to return to later and move on with matters that are easier to agree.
  • At the end of each day, sit with the team and review the say’s progress. Ask whether your guess at their walk-away position has changed and whether the themes on the table now can manoeuvre you into a compromised position.
  • a. Return to the set aside points when the negotiations are in a positive mood after a number of easy agreements and a lot of progress has been made, it should be easier then to reach agreement.
  • 10. Aim to reach a final situation where both sides feel they have won. If you can’t do that then keep on negotiating till you reach a position that fits your starting criteria.
  • 11. Be wary of making it personal, stick to your stated goals and avoid being baited, or finding yourself in competition with other individuals, it’s all about reaching an acceptable agreement.

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