Do PMs need negotiation skills?

Do you think Project Managers (PMs) need negotiation skills?

I do.  I have seen a lot of occasions where they would have come in handy.  Times when the PM is getting push back from streams  or stream leads about delivery items.  In this instance it would be valuable for the PM to have some more formal negotiation skills under his/her belt.

I say this because I have found it very useful myself to have just that, more formal negotiation skills under my belt.  I undertook a unit on Negotiation, Mediation and Advocacy as part of my MBA study and it has proved invaluable in a number of instances since.

Why?  Because I understand that power of negotiation.  I now, don’t walk away from conflict.  I see the value in having conflict and therefore deal with it differently when it arises.  I now see conflict as an important aspect of working relationships that add value to the circumstances and situation that I’m in.

Here are a few tips on negotiation that you might find useful as a PM, if you don’t have any formal training in it:

Try negotiation on the merits a method whereby you look at the following four areas and  deal with them in specific ways

  1. People: Separate the people from the problem.
  2. Interests:  Focus on interests, not positions.
  3. Options: Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.
  4. Criteria:  Insist that the result be based on some objective standard.

Separating the people from the problem is all about understanding the other person/peoples thinking.  Their thinking is the problem.  Put yourself in their shoes.  Out of the information that you are being given, notice if you are picking out and focusing on those facts that confirm your prior perceptions and are disregarding or misinterpreting those that call your perceptions into question.  Don’t tend to assume that whatever you fear, the other side intends to do.

Discuss each others perceptions.  Look for ways to act inconsistently with their perceptions.  Give the other person/people a stake in the outcome by making sure they participate in the process.  Make your proposals consistent with their values.  Recognize the emotions in the room.  Make emotions explicit and acknowledge them as legitimate.  Allow the other person/people to let off steam.  Don’t react to emotional outbursts.  Use symbolic gestures. Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said.  Speak to be understood.  Speak about yourself, not about them.  Speak for a purpose.  Build a working relationship.  Face the problem, not the people.

Focus on interests, not positions is about finding a wise solution that reconciles interests, not positions.   The basic problem in a negotiation lies not in conflicting positions, but in the conflict between each side’s needs, desires, concerns, and fears.  Behind opposed positions lie shared and compatible interests, as well a conflicting ones.

How do you identify interests?  Ask ‘Why?”;  Ask “Why not?”.  Think about their choice.  Realize that each side has multiple interests.  The most powerful interests are basic human needs.  Make a list of the various interests from each side.  Talk about your interests – the purpose of negotiating is to serve your interests.  Acknowledge their interests as part of the problem. Look forward not back.

Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do The idea here is to invent options for mutual gain. Don’t judge the options that are proposed.  Be open minded that whatever is suggested is valuable.  Use an open brainstorming session to elicit possibilities and at this time park you judgement outside the door.  Have a purpose for the session.  Brainstorm in a neutral place.  Make the setting informal.  Make sure you have a facilitator to keep the session on track.

Once you’ve brainstormed sit and work through the viable options.  Mark them and then consider if from these there are others that might be considered by both parties as valuable too.  What are the options that provide mutual gain/mutual benefit?

Insist on using objective criteria  is about identifying your objective criteria and then negotiating using it.

How do you do that?   Having identified some objective criteria and procedures, you have three points to remember:

1. Frame each issue as a joint search for objective criteria.

2. Reason and be open to reason as to which standards are most appropriate and how they should be applied.

3. Never yield to pressure, only to principle.

This material has been taken directly from the book “Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.  It is a valuable book to have on your bookshelf.

Since learning about these I have used them in different ways to get better outcomes from the teams that I’m working with.



Written by Karen Munro

*Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at