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The essential guide to negotiation skills for project managers

 MS MS

Published: 14th June 2022

As a project manager, you may already have covered dealing with conflict and negotiation but when it comes to putting these learned skills into practice it can often be much harder. In our essential guide to negotiation we look at how you can help yourself and your project when it comes to those all-important negotiations.

When individuals work together, it is all too common for conflict to arise, and that is certainly true when it comes to any areas of negotiation that may occur during the project process. These conflicts can often be seen when a person is on the receiving end of communication or behaviour from another individual, and they do not believe this to be acceptable or appropriate. This might be direct conflict, or indirect conflict, both of which can have a negative impact on the results of your project and can affect not only those involved but also those around them.

Negotiation concepts

In the new version of the Association for Project Management, Project Management Qualification (APM PMQ) there was some new concepts in negotiations that were introduced. These form part of the syllabus that is used for the APM PMQ exam and are:

Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA)

This refers to a possible agreement zone which shows the overlap between what a buyer and seller are willing to accept. For each there will be a best and worse-case outcome from the negotiation. Where the two overlap is the area referred to as ZOPA. This might be as simple as a negotiation for an additional cost with the customer that forms part of the closing out of a contract. The key is finding an area of negotiation that is mutually acceptable to both parties, where there is some compromise on the side of both parties and neither feels like they have conceded too much.

Win-Win

This negotiation concept refers to a situation where both parties look to find options that will offer them a mutual gain, where as far as possible both side in the negotiation get what they want. It is important to identify and understand exactly what it is that the other party wants from the negotiations, and that you can offer easily. In return it is then possible to ask for something which is of importance to you and is easy for the other side to offer.

This negotiation technique is comparable to lose-lose where both sides need to make compromises and neither feels like they got what they actually wanted. Or, worse still, it can result in a situation where one side gets what they want, and the other side feels like they have lost out. Win-Win is not always possible, however. It can be tricky when it comes to short term transactions and is perhaps more suited to longer-term contractual arrangements.

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Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)

Sometimes the ZOPA can be so small that neither the buyer nor the seller can come to a satisfactory agreement. If the worst-case for both buyer and seller do not overlap, then it is simply not possible to reach an agreement. BATNA is a fallback agreement it should usually be agreed with the senior management, stakeholders etc before negotiation can begin. When this hasn’t been agreed beforehand, there is a possibility that it will not be an option to follow through on a plan and there is risk that it will be necessary to walk back into the negotiation process in a position that is significantly weaker than previously held.

All of these negotiation skills are worth considering. However they will not all work for the same situations, so it is really important to take stock carefully of the circumstances of the negotiation that is taking place in order to consider which concept is likely to be the most effective tool to use.

Dealing with difficult conversations

It is not unusual for people to actively try to avoid having those difficult conversations that come up, whether these are in the business world or on a more personal level. Leading and even managing a team might be skills that come easily to you. However, for some, dealing with those difficult conversations might be something that you struggle with; if so, you are not alone.

Fear is an emotion that can affect everyone, it is not something that is related to reason. Whilst the best project managers will actively embrace fear it can still be a difficult concept to deal with effectively without getting too emotional. There are however a number of things that you can do to help ensure that you get the best results from those difficult conversations, especially those that occur in negotiations. Learning these negotiation skills is one of the benefits of project management training.

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Use emotional intelligence

It is important not to enter a situation with a point of view that is biased. Use emotional intelligence and consider the other person’s point of view in terms of how they might be feeling and what they might be thinking.

Listen

Communication, which of course encompasses the key skill of listening, is vital when dealing with others. Take a step back from your own feelings and listen properly to what the other person has to say. Don’t interrupt but make a note, if necessary, of things that are said that you may need to touch on.

Ask questions

Don’t simply speak “at” the other person. It is really important to ask questions; the right questions, in order to gain the information that you need.

Be clear

It is important to be clear in your communications, explain your needs, give clear instructions, make sure that the other party in any negotiation situation understands exactly whet you are looking for from them.

Compromise

A key point that it is vital to remember when looking at any type of negotiations is that compromise may well be necessary. A willingness to compromise is far more likely to help both parties in a negotiation to reach an outcome that is agreeable to everyone.

When it comes to negotiation skills the key factor to remember is that there is a good chance a bit of “give and take” should be present. Everyone will have their own agenda, and this will mean differences in priorities and points of view. Listening carefully and asking the right questions can really help to understand this and make the entire process a much smoother one

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