Project Practitioners > It's All Negotiable

It's All Negotiable

By Michael Aucoin

In our lives, we continually negotiate, knowingly or not. Where will we go out to eat? What will you give me for my used car? Who will pay for this scope change?

And then there’s the big one: With whose family will we spend the holidays?

Negotiation is as much a part of project management as a Gantt chart and the words, “over budget”. Many think that negotiation applies to major deals and the associated formal give and take, and that is certainly true. However, we often negotiate on a daily basis on matters big and small.

It is helpful to consider how I can become a better negotiator, and likewise to help others, even those I am negotiating “against”. Do you find that concept shocking… why would I want to help my “opponent”? Stay tuned for the answer.

As a mini-series on project negotiation, we will explore the topic of negotiation and its importance for great projects. To begin, let’s approach the topic from a unique direction – from emotion.

In Right-Brain Project Management, I explained how we make decisions based on how we feel about the available outcomes. Of course, we like to consider facts and data, but in the end, we make decisions based on emotion.

Here’s a related thought. Relative social status is very important in humans – our brains are hard-wired to feel good when relative status is raised, and threatened when relative status is lowered. For more on this topic, see my column, “Conversation Starters”. 

The best negotiations are those in which all parties feel good about the outcome, and when the parties feel their social status has been enhanced or, at worst, kept neutral. This is the foundation for why we seek “win-win” outcomes.

But what does it mean to have a “win-win” outcome? Many would say that for this specific negotiation, all parties got what they wanted, and perhaps more. I tend to take a longer view – when this negotiation benefits the long-term relationship with other parties, then it is “win-win”. I say this even if I may, by conscious choice, sacrifice some short-term objective.

Let’s return to why I might want to help my “opponent”. In the alternate approach, I wish to improve my position relative to theirs. This objective sounds a lot like a desire to diminish my opponent’s relative status. In doing that, I run the risk of triggering a primal “fight or flight” reaction in the opponent. The negotiation either falls apart, or we escalate into a battle to extract gains at the other’s expense.

It is far better to approach a negotiation as partners in solving a problem or pursuing an opportunity. Such an approach is not just about warm fuzzies – it is rooted in human DNA.

What would you like to accomplish with your team, your colleagues and your partners? It’s all negotiable!

B. Michael Aucoin, D. Engr., PE, PMP is president of Leading Edge Management, LLC and author of Right-Brain Project Management (Management Concepts, 2007). He can be reached at

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

The comments to this entry are closed.

©Copyright 2000-2017 Emprend, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
About us   Site Map   View current sponsorship opportunities (PDF)
Contact us for more information or e-mail
Terms of Service and Privacy Policy

Stay Connected
Get our latest content delivered to your inbox, every other week. New case studies, articles, templates, online courses, and more. Check out our Newsletter Archive for past issues. Sign Up Now

Follow Us!
Linked In Facebook Twitter RSS Feeds

Got a Question?
Drop us an email or call us toll free:
7am-5pm Pacific
Monday - Friday
We'd love to talk to you.

Learn more about ProjectConnections and who writes our content. Want to learn more? Compare our membership levels.