As a project manager, you’re tasked with the responsibility of delivering a project on time and on budget. You’re given the authority to make decisions that will lead your project to success. One of the key skills that are difficult to learn in any classroom is the art of negotiating and influencing stakeholders. When I say ‘stakeholders’, I don’t just mean your team members – although that is probably where you can have the most natural influence. Key stakeholders that may need influencing could even include project sponsorship.
Negotiation tactics is a skill that is often and best learned on the job. This is where rounding out your ‘soft’ skills comes into play in a big way. To be an effective influencer and/or negotiator you need to understand the stakeholder who you are dealing with. What type of personality do they have? What part of that personality can you appeal to? It’s no different than when you’re trying to find the best way to deliver that piece of bad news that they will not like.
A key element to influencing and negotiation is to ensure as much transparency as possible. When people trust you and trust your judgement, they are much more apt to be inclined to agree with what you propose. If the trust has eroded, it is a much tougher sell. If someone believes that you are acting in their best interest (which a trusting relationship implies) then you have cleared the biggest hurdle in influencing a stakeholder. Instinctively people are inclined to agree with people they trust, for the basic reason of that they believe that person is considering what’s best for them as well.
When conducting negotiations, I find it is always good to put yourself on the other side of the table to gain as much outside perspective as possible and tweak your approach. Try to see what you are ‘selling’ from the other party’s eyes and this will help you find the right message to deliver.
Negotiation and exacting influence is not a difficult skill, but certainly a delicate one. As with any skill, practice makes perfect however the more tuned in you are to your stakeholder’s personality, their needs and their communication style the better chance you have at influencing the opinions of your stakeholders.