No, I’m Saying…

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I was in a contract negotiations meeting for several hours yesterday.  The most notable quote came after the customer was asking for the basis of estimates for the scope of work being proposed.

I think both the vendor and customer could have done a lot better if they had just valued customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

I felt like I was watching a first-time buyer at a used car dealership.  When the sticker price is in the Millions of dollars, it becomes a very interesting game of poker.  As usual, my job was not to negotiate.  It was merely to observe and advise.

Vendor: You’re saying the LOE is too high.

Customer: No, I’m saying I want you to justify your LOE.

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Know how to say no in negotiations

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We’ve all had it happen to us. We were able to get a signed agreement in hand, identifying agreed upon scope of work. Everything for a fleeting moment is right in the world. Then it happens. That one stakeholder (you know who they are) comes to your desk and asks. “Can we add this one little tiny feature?” or “Can we make this one tiny little change?”

Are you kidding me? This reminds me of when my son asks if he can have dessert when he hasn’t eaten his dinner. Though you can’t be as abrupt with a stakeholder like you can with a 4-year-old, the answer should still be the same. No.

Though you should not be an obstructionist, we could all learn a little from Dr. Cox in this case.  His (command) mitigated speech is all he needed.  In the real world, stride to be a win-win negotiator and be aware of the mitigated speech being used to conduct your negotiations.

Always have a plan B when negotiating

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Too many times people, including project managers, freeze like deer in the headlights when asked what their contingencies are.  Rather than get all dramatic, in the event you may not get your first choice, you should know what your other choices are and assign pre-qualifying criteria to them.  Be prepared to negotiate…EVERYTHING. I hate making emotional decisions.  I do make them but not until after the logical decisions have been exhausted.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to negotiate a new salary or deciding where you and a group may have dinner for the evening.  You should know what your options are and negotiate the best outcome.

If given the choice between A or B, when I want C, I commonly abstain.  This frustrates people, maybe because they are used to groupthink and they are trying to avoid conflict.  Some may think I’m being passive-aggressive or an obstructionist.  Actually, if I know what I want, I just won’t settle (when I don’t think I have to).

The PMBOK offers a few helpful negotiation points in Section G.8.

  • Analyze the situation.
  • Differentiate between wants and needs – both theirs and yours.
  • Focus on interests and issues rather than on positions.
  • Ask high and offer low, but be realistic.
  • When you make a concession, act as if you are yielding something of value, don’t just give in.
  • Always make sure both parties feel as if they have won.  This is a win-win negotiation.  Never let the other party leave feeling as if he or she has been taken advantage of. (I don’t always do this)
  • Do a good job of listening and articulating.

Know your choices.  Don’t settle.

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Mitigated Speech and Project Negotiations

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Try thisMitigated speech is a linguistic term describing deferential or indirect speech inherent in communication between individuals of perceived High Power Distance.

The term was recently popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, where he defines mitigated speech as “any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said”. He described 6 degrees of mitigation with which we make suggestions to authority:

1. Command – “Implement this

2. Team Obligation Statement – “We need to try this

3. Team Suggestion – “Why don’t we try this?”

4. Query – “Do you think this would help us in this situation?”

5. Preference – “Perhaps we should take a look at this an an alternative”

6. Hint – “I wonder if we will run into any issues by following our current process”

As I observe the command and communication structure between a PMO and its members and contractors, I have the opportunity to witness mitigated speech every day.  Being direct (command) doesn’t always work.  People need to learn to be flexible in their requests and negotiations if they have the hope those in power will implement new strategies.  Additionally, learn to read those around you to know what degree of mitigation you will use IF you intend to use it.

As I read Outliers, I started to think of the relationship between mitigated speech and Appendix G.8 (negotiation) of the PMBoK.

Negotiation is a strategy of conferring with parties of shared or opposed interests with a view of compromise or reach an agreement.  Negotiation is an integral part of project management and when done well, increases the probability of project success.

The following skills and behaviors are useful in negotiating successfully:

  • Analyze the situation.
  • Differentiate between wants and needs – both yours and theirs.
  • Focus on interests and issues rather that on positions.
  • Ask high and offer low, but be realistic.
  • When you make a concession, act as if you are yielding something of value, don’t just give in.
  • Always make sure both parties feel as if they have won.  This is a win-win negotiation.  Never let the other party leave feeling as if he or she has been taken advantage of.
  • Do a good job of listening and articulating.

To summarize, stride to be a win-win negotiator and be aware of the mitigated speech you are using to conduct your negotiations.