Principled negotiation is about separating people from the problem. Focusing on interests rather than positions is beneficial when leading change. This post explains why the project leader should adopt an interest-based approach to negotiation and conflict resolution.
Many projects are organised in a matrix structure where responsibility, authority and accountability are usually shared. Those participating in a project are brought together from different functional areas to work in a virtual team. Consequently, they are likely to have different perceptions and expectations for the project.
To be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. Edward R. Murrow.
For example, they may have a view on the way things should be done, the efficacy of project management techniques or the time and effort scheduled for a particular task. Therefore, the project leader must be able to negotiate with experts, functional managers, and senior management to secure resources, agree priorities, and determine responsibilities.
In other words, the project leader must learn to influence people and move them to action. If we are to motivate someone to do something for us we need to be sure they understand the objective
- Know what to do
- Know how to do it
- Accept the schedule
- Believe they can do it
- Grasp the significance of not doing it
This is not straightforward. The project leader has to influence senior stakeholders and direct people from different parts of the organisation. Negotiation is a fact of life for the project leader. However, negotiations must be done in such a way that they do not jeopardise ongoing relationships and the project.
Fisher and Ury advocate seven fundamental principles of negotiation—principled negotiation—that often lead to win-win situations and mutual gain
- Commit to negotiate for mutual gain
- Avoid bargaining over positions
- Separate people from the problem
- Separate the relationship from the substance
- Focus on interests, not positions
- Generate options for mutual gain
- Use objective data or standard
Principled negotiation is right for the project organisation: project leaders must negotiate on consensus not position. Acting in good faith is necessary—nay essential—when you don’t have direct control of your resources. Building trust and improving understanding will help the project leader to focus on the real issues and to avoid arguments over position.
Moreover, separating people from the substantive problem whilst balancing the need to resolve the matter and support good working relationships will lead to an informed and lasting solution. What’s more, the project leader is often able to see how a potential solution can benefit other parties: opposed positions often lead to compatible interests.
To negotiate successfully the project leader must insist on using objective criteria because this increases the chance of success. Principled negotiation is about reaching agreement.
In contrast, negotiations that end in conflict—positional bargaining—are inefficient, unlikely to achieve a win-win outcome, and damage working relationships.
Have Your Say
Do you adopt an interest-based or win-win approach to negotiation? Do you seek compromise? How do you create value when negotiating? Please join the discussion.