Negotiating successfully

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Negotiation is a complex interaction between two or more individuals. Having a good set of negotiation skills is most central to a project manager both in day-to-day activities amongst the team members of the project and when interacting with project stakeholders. The negotiation skills of the project manager can be said to go beyond achieving the wanted output as the project manager often need to maintain a positive relationship with the counterpart. Moreover, the success of the project partly is a subjective evaluation off the stakeholders involved and that is why accomplishing mutually acceptable solutions is important. The ability to negotiate is a vital prerequisite when striving towards success. This article will provide recommendations to project managers wanting to improve his or hers negotiation skills.

Confrontation is common occurrence in negotiation but often best avoided as the project will come to an end and as a project manager you may need to maintain good business relationships for later projects. In order to lead a successful negotiation it is important to have high aspirations and fight hard for your case, but with expectations firmly grounded in reality because the proposal may not seem as good as assumed to the opponent. The successful negotiator has a high degree of self-awareness. Having a good set of arguments is not sufficient to accomplish what you want from a negotiation. Always be well prepared, have an understanding of the opponents priorities, and intellectually manage any emotions surfacing as the negotiation plays out. Furthermore, the best way to uncover any hidden agendas the counterpart may have is by building a trusting relationship during the negotiation. This is done through listening to what your opponents interests are and by noticing nonverbal communication. Should the negotiation head towards an impasse you may have to reject the offer and apply the Best Alternative to negotiated Agreement (BATNA).


Types of negotiation

Both negotiators want to get as much of the pool of resources as possible, but a successful project manager is aware of the fact that there is a broader spectrum of things that matter such as the stability and durability of the agreement. Keeping a good relationship with the project stakeholders helps to ensure that a similar deal can be made at a later point in time. Thus, project managers should have a real interest in generating a successful negotiation and reaching an agreement which benefits both parties. Negotiation theory differentiates between two main types of negotiation: distributive, also known as a win-lose negotiation, and integrative, often referred to as a win-win negotiation.

Disruptive negotiation

Disruptive negotiation is competitive and the final outcome is usually favorable to one party as the resources appear fixed and both parties fight to maximize their share. In a scenario where the project manager can assume not to engage with the other party again, distributive bargaining tactics can be employed. A disruptive strategy can provide great short-term benefits but may be destructive to your reputation as a project manager. Unethical techniques Mistrust breeds mistrust and openness inspires openness. In building solid business relationships you have to make people trust you. If you employ unpleasant types of negotiation strategies your stakeholders will evidently choose to do business with someone else.

Integrative negotiation

To a project manager a successful negotiation is arguably when the desired output is obtained and the relationship with the opponent is maintained. This is the output of a win-win negotiation. Applying this negotiation type does not imply that conflict is to be avoided at all cost. Rather, it is a form of negotiation where you work on achieving a solution that is great for you whilst making sure the opponent gets a deal that is good for them. By being flexible and capitalize on differences you can extend the pool of resources beyond the what would get by splitting the pool 50-50. A common mistake is to assume that the pool of resources is fixed because it rarely is.

Negotiation strategy

During the negotiation you may choose a soft, hard or principled communication strategy. Principled bargaining is the best strategy as a manager. It portrays self-confidence on the

Effective negotiators have an understanding of the interests and the tactics of the other party. In order to achieve the best possible output, you should never walk into a negotiation unprepared. A solid communication plan will lay the foundation for success and help you accomplish an effective negotiation. The amount of preparation needed is proportional to the significance of the deal and the stakeholder being addressed. Be win-win oriented


The first thing you should do is to clarify your goal. Negotiators with a clear goal consistently outperform those without one. Furthermore, successful negotiation relies on good ground work before the negotiation. Being well informed on the project subject matter will create a strong foundation of confidence as well as it keeps the opponent on their toes. It will also keep stress levels in check, should you feel anxious about the negotiation. Don't appear weak by not knowing the details of the topic being discussed as your opponent may sense that and start bluffing. Many negotiators will exploit lack of knowledge and try to make you feel uncertain about your case.

Negotiating with difficult people

When experiencing a frustrating/difficult counterpart it is beneficial to use more time before reaching an agreement. Allow for breaks from the discussion to release tension. Time pressure often leads to quick judgement, which can cause both parties to walk away with a less optimal deal. Conflict may arise as the opponent don't respond the intended way to your communication style. If thats the case you may benefit from sharing your thoughts and emotions.

Remind the other party that you have shared benefits and emphasize losses that will occur if a deal cant be made. Clarify your level of commitment to the deal and point out your common interests in the negotiation that your interests may compliment each other. If a potential vendor is not willing to reduce their price point you should consider other sorts of perks that the vendor may be able to offer such as additional services. Many negotiators develop a negotiation pattern so if you know you are dealing with an experienced negotiator you may find it helpful to talk to business associates for clues on how to deal with the person in question.

When dealing with a difficult counterpart who seems to prefer competition over collaboration, it is common to categorize the opponent as irrational but few people in professional environments are. Before walking away from the negotiation, try to identify why the opponent is acting the way they are. Understand what external constrains they might have and what stakeholders they are answering to. Calling out irrational behavior can cause the opponent to lose self-esteem, which can trigger anger or embarrassment leading to an increasingly competitive behavior. Allow more time to pass as you negotiate and try to identify hidden constrains. This could be a tight budget, fear of walking away from the negotiation with too little or commitments to other on going projects.


You should always be aware of a viable second option should the negotiation fall short. The Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement, BATNA, is the fallback solution you apply if your reservation offer is not met. Having thought this through in advance will protect you from making the wrong choice and walking away with a suboptimal solution. Having a strong BATNA will also give you raise your level confidence throughout the discussion. As a part of preparing for the negotiation you should calculate your reservation value, which is the lowest valued price your willing to accept. If the opponent asks for more than your reservation value, you implement the BATNA.

To create your BATNA, begin by listening outside alternatives. Brainstorm the viable options which can meet your intent and at the same time please the relevant stakeholders. Evaluate each option and calculate the value of pursuing it. Then chose the most attractive solution and establish the BATNA. Implement the BATNA if the negotiation is headed towards impasse. Having a strong BATNA will increase your negotiation power so it is important to take active steps to better your BATNA if you feel it is weak.

Sophisticated negotiators do not only think through their own BATNA, they will also have thought about what the opponent might do without the proposed deal. Although harder to asses, it will give you an understanding of their trigger points, negotiation power and what they can obtain without your proposal.

Closing the deal

Effective negotiators are able to both capture and create value in a negotiation. Most negotiations involve multiple issues, which forces the negotiators to be creative and make trade-offs. Both parties can strike a better deal by trading across the issues and seeking creative solutions. This is known as logrolling and it requires you to have a clear vision of your own as well as the opponents preferences. These trading elements should be kept in the forefront of your mind throughout the discussion, but are most efficiently used towards the end, when you want to close the deal.

Achieving the desired output relies on the negotiators ability to recognize that all obtainable goals have been reached and it is time to finalize the process. If no agreement can be reached recognize the impasse, and bring the meeting to a close. Wether the negotiation reached an agreement or not it is important to briefly summarize essential parts of the discussion, such that both parties have the same idea of further actions. Any future promises the opponent makes should be documented and a contract stating the consequences if the promises fall through should be made.

Experienced negotiators develop the ability to foresee the other party's next moves. Stress the unique benefits of your solution, be patient and pay attention to what the opponent signals through their body language.

Effective Communication

Every interaction entails negotiation to a certain degree. An open communication amongst the project team members will result in higher team efficiency and as project manager it is important to have an understanding of communication style of your business associates and stakeholders in order to maintain an open dialog. It is easier to interact with individuals who have demonstrated respect for others and gained peoples trust. Know what you would like to communicate to the other party in a negotiation and remember that too much information can be as ineffective as saying too little. The information you provide should be formulated in a logical and well organized way such that it is easily understood.

Active listening

Active listening is both informative and affective. It is arguably the most essential tool a successful negotiator possesses. Through attentive focus on the speaker you increase your understanding of what the other party's interests are. Many negotiators do not listen well enough and thus fails to capture valuable information. To capture the attitude of the opponent, and the messages behind the words, be alert on what is said through nonverbal cues. Many people are under the influence that if you want to be persuading you need to be talking, but thats often not the case.

Negotiation is about changing someone’s mind, but you cant change their mind if you don't know where that mind is. By listening to what the opponent has to say you build trust and you also make it more likely to that they will listen to you. Active listening displays professionalism but if you're not sufficiently empathic and your listening style is interruptive it will shine through.

A common mistake when negotiating is projecting own interests and desires on to the counterpart and assuming they share your interests and believes. As opposed to being assertive, actively ask questions and restate what they are saying to portray an understanding and avoid missed opportunities.

Nonverbal communication

Strong negotiators master both verbal and nonverbal communication. Typically, we are much less conscious of nonverbal messages than what we are actually saying and yet the nonverbal communication represents two thirds of the message which is communicated. Consequently, the project manager will benefit from having conscious knowledge of the things being said through visual cues. The nonverbal communication covers everything we say we say without the use of words such as tone of voice, gestures and body language.

In order to successfully negotiate you should be aware of the nonverbal messages you emit. It can be a powerful tool for those who learn to master it. You can use your body language to convey confidence or honesty, thus forming the type of relationship you wish to have with the person you are discussing with. As the negotiation becomes heated your body may response with a tense body language. Pay attention to what made you tense, and take a brake. The opposing negotiator will be aware of your body language either way and if you are not careful they may leverage their position from what they interpret, causing you to walk away with less than initially planned.

Visual cues to be aware of

Arm movement. Pay attention to your hands and try to keep them in a neutral position. Restless arm movement will make you appear less confident.

Eye contact. Avoiding eye contact signals unease or signal that you are hiding something. Look the other person in the eye when talking as it signals confidence and enthusiasm. However, too much eye contact may make you appear aggressive and intimidating so keep in mind that it is natural to look away occasionally, like when processing new information.

Personal space. Face the other party in the discussion to convey interest and respect their persons personal space. Too little personal space will appear intimidating.

Premature celebration. Win-Win negotiation doesn't imply that resources are split in half, fair and equally. It aims at keeping pleased with the agreement. Don't appear too satisfied with the outcome of the negotiation, as this may signal to the opponent that they could have struck a better deal.

Posture.Straighten your back and signal attentive listening by leaning slightly forward if sitting down. Signal an open reception by uncrossing arms or legs.

A win-win negotiation is based on the subjective perception of what a win is. You can affect the opponents satisfaction with the negotiation by influencing their expectations to what they will get through the use of nonverbal communications. If your reaction to a proposal is cooperative and you smile and nod along to their information, you will raise your counterparts expectations. If you're not prepared to meet the demands they conveyed the negotiation will end with excessive disappointment. Conversely, if you meet an offer with a surprised look and squint eyes, even laughter, you can lower their expectations and the opponent will satisfied with less.

Managing emotions

Managing emotions and relationships the most important parts of being a successful negotiator over an extended period of time. The higher the perceived stakes the more likely it gets that emotions will influence the final outcome of the discussion. Both positive and negative emotions occurring during the negotiation can influence decisions so it is essential to be aware of the emotions of all parties involved. It is important to show empathy to the counterpart, understand what their interests are and what is important to them at a fundamental level. A smart negotiator is at all times aware of the present emotions and addresses them in an intelligent way.

Dealing with your own emotions

If you are able to identify what your emotional triggers may be in advance they are less likely to let it affect your negotiation decisions.

Anger. Anger is one of the most destructive emotions in a negotiation. If the anger is directed at the subject of discussion, and not towards the person on the other side of the table, it can come across as conviction and passion, which can sway the opponent to accept your terms. but more often it is directed at the other party. Try to separate the person from the argument. Should the rage distract you from the task at hand, the best solution is to propose a brake to release tension.

Anxiety. When dealing with important stakeholders one feel a bit anxious. To have some anxiety has been proven to be constructive as it can help you concentrate, however, too much will make you more recipient to poor advice. In order to deal with anxiety, make sure to prepare well in advance, know your value and alleviate stress through relaxation techniques.

A common mistake in negotiation is to over-attribute intentionality. When experiencing discomfort in an argument due to comments from the opponent, which hurts or upsets, a common mistake is to assume that the person who caused the discomfort meant it. This causes us to retaliate, creating a downwards spiral of conflict. Trying to hold back from assuming your opponent deliberately tries to upset you will be beneficial.

In order to maintain lasting relationships you should not blame the other party if you didn't achieve the output you wanted.

Dealing with the opponents emotions

Trust. Prior to a negotiation your counterpart will have some expectation as to what sort of deal they will get. By creating a trusting bond with the stakeholder during the negotiation, he or she will feel as though your decisions are less risky and thus more acceptable. The opponents willingness to create trade-offs relies on an expectation that their own trade-offs will be met.

Positive attitude. Entering the negotiation with a positive attitude will increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. When appropriate, decrease the formality of the negotiation and make the opponent feel relaxed through small talk and the use of humor. Generally, people are more cooperative and less likely to apply an aggressive bargain technique, when in a good mood. If you suspect your opponent is otherwise, try to identify the source of the negative feelings. Start off by making light conversation and ask open ended questions about their day.

Mirroring. The opponent will signal their mood through visual cues and by mirroring their signals you can build trust and create a connection.

Symbolic gestures. The emotions of the opponent may have nothing to do with you but if they are the most effective and low cost way off restoring the relationship is by offering an apology.

Some people are self-conscious about the way they are being perceived in the workplace and may be conducting a hard bargain technique to save face. He or she may have an idea of who they want to be as a business negotiator and want to maintain a reputation by taking a firm holding out on your proposals. In such a scenario the best solution may be to start looking for other strategic options out there or engage different stakeholders.


1 A Guide To The Project Management Body Of Knowledge (Fifth edition)

2 Dealing with difficult people, Harvard law school

3 (pdf)

4 Gower Handbook of Management Skills (Dorothy M. Stewart, 1998, third edition)

5;jsessionid=F7F79762F25A4C3C02BFAC1842E854F5.f04t01?v=1&t=jducngb5&s=b4583d8061d7959bb733c14b1366990a0d338aa9 (pdf)

6 Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin, 1991, second edition)


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