Good communication is the baseline for any and all negotiations, and ensuring that you are proficient in the language spoken by people working in and on the project is no exception. I know this may seem remedial, but especially on large projects where perhaps you don’t speak the local language, then you need trusted translators in your team.
Communication is the most important competency for Programme Managers based on the first article of this series. I would even say it is the baseline for Programme Management. But there is one trait which essentially underlines great communication and that is self-confidence. While this may seem unrelated to communication, I assure you, it has a massive impact on your communication skills and what other people hear when you talk!
You need a certain level of self-confidence and trust in your capabilities in order to communicate your messages clearly. If you trust that you can succeed in your negotiations, half the battle is won. This is especially helpful when you have no time to prepare and you go into a negotiation and you just have to take it from where you are with the limited knowledge that you have. While I prefer being prepared for every meeting, there are times when an impromptu meeting pops up unexpectedly. This is often the case in many programmes.
From my point of view, negotiation is an art. Yes, there are some baselines and processes, but keep in mind that the following is crucial for successful negotiations:
- personal condition
- interpersonal skills
- and as mentioned already, your self-confidence.
Cultural understanding is another point that can break or make your negotiation outcome. If you negotiate in your own environment and your partners are from the same cultural circle, usually you there are little to no problems in communication. However, if you negotiate with partners from different countries, different cultures and different languages, then you need to be very clear with whom you are talking. It is all about knowing your negotiation partners, their cultures and how you need to behave in order to keep the upper hand. As a Swiss, living in Malaysia and working around Asia and Middle East, I can say that each country or even region has its own way of doing projects. Needless to say that I have learnt a lot by making my own mistakes. As a programme manager for larger projects, you will most likely deal with international audiences anyway. Therefore, learn negotiation skills as much as you can, and research about the countries customs and culture before talking with people in your project team that are from these said countries.
Negotiation is not just about settling a business deal. Negotiation is about finding ways to work with your team, your project managers with your contractors to get the job done in the best time the best cost and quality. Sometimes it is just an informal discussion between a few people to find an ideal sequence of activities and who will start first and so on. Other times it may become a year-long “fight” in formal meetings with all the legal involved to settle a contract or a dispute.
In general it is crucial to be clear on the outcome you want to achieve, both for the overall project and for each meeting you attend. If you play your cards right, you can leave each discussion with a win-win outcome for all the parties involved, though there may be times when such lucky resolutions cannot happen. Hence, have enough flexibility and stay open to different outcomes with even better benefits for the programme and the company than planned.
A typical negotiation process comes in a certain set of stages listed below, but again, please be flexible in your negotiations because each situation is different. You may have to deviate from the steps given below based on specific contexts or issues.
As mentioned above, preparation is one major key in successful negotiations and meetings. Collect all the information and facts you can get. Ask different sources so that you can solidify a sound “picture” for yourself before each meeting. I usually prepare with my own team first in order to get all the ideas together and to align to a desired outcome.
However, preparation may include meeting a key person of the other party, e.g. Client, sub-contractor, consortium partner etc., and having an informal discussion to settle the outcome with a handshake before the official meeting.
Another preparation point is to define the technical solution first, agree on the technical part and push the commercial negotiations to a later stage. It may be easier to find a technical solution with specific people and implement it than having a complete technical and commercial solution in one meeting. Ideally, this way forward should be prepared before the official negotiation starts.
Remember to nominate the person who will talk and facilitate the negotiations. You may also need to define two people crucial in the meeting: the “good cop” and the “bad cop”. You never know what strategy may work best for your meeting.
- The Meeting
The nominated person should give a short intro speech why each party is here and who each party member is with their respective background. Remember to also define the secretary to document the meeting and the conclusion.
During this stage, individuals or members of each side put forward the case as they see it, i.e. their understanding of the situation. It is extremely important to listen to each person and their viewpoint. If a disagreement takes place, it is easy to make the mistake of saying too much and listening too little or suddenly going into defensive mode without knowing or understanding the other party’s concerns. Each side should have an equal opportunity to present their case. Understanding the other parties’ views can give you much more power using the right words either against the other party or you may just confirm what they said because it is actually more than you wanted.
- Gain Clarity
From the discussion, the goals, interests and viewpoints of both sides of the disagreement need to be clarified and put into the meeting records. Clarification is an essential part of the negotiation process, without it misunderstandings are likely to occur which may cause problems and barriers to reaching a beneficial outcome.
- Negotiate Towards a Win-Win Outcome
Focus on a ‘win-win’ outcome where both sides feel they have gained something positive through the process of negotiation and both sides feel their point of view has been taken into consideration. A win-win outcome is usually the best result. Although this may not always be possible, through negotiation, it should be the ultimate goal. Compromises are often positive alternatives which can often achieve greater benefit for all concerned compared to holding to the original positions.
Agreement can be achieved once understandings of both sides’ viewpoints and interests have been considered. It is essential for everybody involved to keep an open mind in order to achieve an acceptable solution. Any agreement needs to be made perfectly clear and documented so that both sides know what has been decided.
- Implementing a Road Map
From the agreement, a road map has to be prepared and agreed by all parties to carry through the decision. This should be included in the meeting records and signed off.
If the process of negotiation breaks down and an agreement cannot be reached, then it is time to call for a break, get some food and drinks or schedule another meeting. While emotions are bound to climb during certain conversations, there is no need to add gas to the fire. It is important to avoid all parties becoming embroiled in heated discussion or argument, which not only wastes time but can also damage future relationships.
Before you go for the next meeting, prepare the new meeting based on the previous meeting and why it had to stop. Find alternatives and solutions, talk to people to find out more details and, if applicable, stick to your goal(s), but define a different plan or approach to the meeting. At this stage it may also be helpful to bring in another person to facilitate or mediate; after all, when emotions go up, intelligence can often go down. This is why it is so important to keep everyone’s emotions in check.
Here’s to happy communications!