It is difficult to say

Typical answer from someone unprepared when asked: “how much is the budget for your project?” My interlocutor eventually admitted she needed to check with the general manager. Fair: if I want to start a discussion and understand the magnitude of a project, it is usually better to get it directly from the project manager him/herself. That was my first mistake. Digging for details of what and how my services could be used on this project felt like pulling teeth: not fun, and, once I had realised the representative’s limited knowledge, it just became sterile. Full stop.

Going back to the learning exercises, case studies and other role plays I both took part in and taught, negotiating is often perceived as “difficult” or seen as a source of conflict. In theory, it can be. In reality, the more prepared each party is, the easier it is. It is like anything else, really. Engaging into a conversation with anyone from the other organisation(s) is always good: different perspective(s) on the project and the company. Once the “discovery” stage is completed, finding who the final decision maker is becomes essential before pursuing any further. Defining the objectives (e.g. what can be traded, what the alternatives look like, what the expectations are, where, if at all, can we compromise) is another important element before considering, or feeling, being taken advantage of or having to play hardball.

Negotiating is another art that requires skills (and some talent, at least to reach and lead a meaningful discussion for all parties involved). Harvard teaches a program specifically dedicated to the topic: this is not a random choice. Discussing terms and conditions of any agreement can be very challenging, and committing to revealing a number first (on the financial / budget part) represents some risk. That is where emotional awareness plays a great role in shaping the negotiation: know your audience, and improvise along with your preparation (yes, this sounds contradictory, and… it is actually not). If all parties are open enough to share some basic information, the discussion can even be pleasant (I have had this happen, and signing the contract was a real bliss).

Now I am going to be patient, and keep preparing, listing my questions, laying out what options exist, based on my understanding of the project. It is still early in the negotiation, and I know the company is limited in time (unsure how much has been invested in their own groundwork). Ideally, making a decision on a contract requires some time: to reflect and ponder on the risks and consequences. Realistically, most of the projects I have been involved in have constantly changed and I have often extinguished fires. It was not difficult to say: just difficult to manage… and smother.

Photo credit © OFL – “Truckee Halloween”