Lunch with the $6 billion Project Manager

On Sunday I had lunch with the CEO of a major infrastructure project. They had just closed one of Australia’s largest ever project finance transactions. Given that I’m currently putting together some soft skills training on negotiation I couldn’t help but ask…

“What do you think were the most critical soft skills you used to negotiate and close the deal?”

We all negotiate our way through life so I strongly suggest you read on to hear the answer the CEO gave and don’t forget to check out my little summary video at the end of the post that takes you through some of the themes in more detail:

50% hard/50% soft skills

To negotiate you need the hard skill (what to do and when) but the deal gets done using the soft skills, BOTH are critical to success. The CEO said that there were teams of people handling the various aspects of the deal but as the Lead she was responsible for managing the timing of who to bring in and when throughout the negotiation process. She said “you never know when you have to come back to the table” so bringing in the hard-nosed negotiators to early or too frequently can be harmful to the partnership that has to function after the negotiation is complete. In short it was her job to balance the mix between hard and soft skills.

Patience, patience, patience

This was emphasised over and over (it really was repeated three times). And if you check out the dictionary it seems appropriate:

“state of endurance under difficult circumstances”

So understanding the “long distance” nature of negotiations (especially mega ones) is the mindset of negotiation masters. Of course to be patient requires high levels of emotional intelligence and all the associated dimensions (perceiving, using and managing emotions). See the video at the end of the post for more on this.

Actively seeking out the other party’s “why?”

If you come to the negotiation table with only your agenda, failing to consider and make every attempt to know why the other party is entering the negotiation, then you increase the risk an inferior outcome (or no deal). Now this may sound trivial and obvious but think of the last time you had to negotiate, did you ask the other party about their why or just assume you knew it?

“Of course they just want the sale”

“This person is stalling on purpose, they are not ready to implement!”

“Salary is the main issues here…

There are things you can do to learn the other party’s “why”. One is to use coaching and facilitation techniques; these are key soft skills and fall into the “art” of negotiation rather than a hard skill. Ironically I don’t advise you actually use the word ‘why?’ as it is too direct. I suggest using ‘what‘, ‘how ‘and ‘tell me more‘ type of questions and think of yourself as a criminal investigator getting clues to solve a murder mystery.

Think partner not bargaining adversary

During our conversation the CEO mentioned a quote from the book ‘Lean In’ (by the COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg) that helped her during the negotiation. The story goes that when Sheryl was looking to be hired by Mark Zuckerman they were negotiating salary. Sheryl mentioned to Mark that he was hiring her as a negotiator and that this would be the last time that they would be sitting on the opposite sides of the table; next they would be partners in the business and that he would not respect her if she did not push for her full worth. This story reenforces the point that after a negotiation you need to have respect for your new partner AND a healthy working relationship. To me this says you need a soft (skill) touch as you move to close a deal whilst sometimes taking a hard line (don’t be a push over).

 Closing comments and further e-learning

To summarise what I learned from my lunch with the $6 billion PM I’ve put together my thoughts into this little 3 minute video; check it out! Also I’m needing some help from my readers to review an upcoming e-learning module I’m creating on this topic; more details are in the video. Please share this post or the video with people who you think may benefit.

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Posted in Blog, Career, Manage emotion, Soft Skills
3 comments on “Lunch with the $6 billion Project Manager
  1. Raksha says:

    A very insightful read and watch, Niall. Thanks for sharing. As small businesses, we often tend to focus more on the soft skill negotiations and shy away from the hard skills. Thanks for the food for thought!

  2. SAlly Ryan says:

    I particularly liked understanding their WHY.

  3. Tom says:

    Great Niall! Yes ~ the subtle things in life are BIG!!!

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