Negotiating the professional way to ecological results



This paper addresses the clash attitude in relations that generates under-covered costs, causes a waste of energy, demotivates the people involved, generates a lack of cooperation, and increases the level of “forcing and submission of power.”

In short, managing a project means managing the conflicts among colleagues who are supposed to be cooperating. When a higher level of intelligence in examining the context is used, people realize how this is mostly caused by the hierarchical use of the power of controlling and a narrow vision where efficiency on cost and timing (and quarter’s results) for their division or department are the main drivers for managers.

As a corporate coach, I have been asked several times to change the clash attitude and the conflict behavioral pattern in a group or organization. I have done it by changing the way people negotiate with their stakeholders. From collision for different solutions and visions, to the creation of professional relationships, I have been able to generate many possible solutions to achieve mutual satisfaction. This model examines the competence power of a manager by giving him or her possibilities.

It is possible nowadays for a project manager to get their leadership power back because of his or her competence. In the recent past, project managers abdicated their managing power over the project; they did it because they were pushed by the “managers with the club,”—the most efficient ones to lead start-up euphoria in a new business phase.

Now that most corporations and companies are in their mature/decline phases or into a dramatic change of business model, efficiency, risk prevention, cost cutting, and budget concerns are the driving concepts that require a manager to have a different attitude than a troglodyte one.

Project managers, to help the consciousness of the result and to preserve the business ecology, can return to their core competence of consulting managers. They can play their competence and all their personal power for consultancy and relationship quality, instead of seeking an anachronistic domination power.

I present a set of negotiating assumptions that change dramatically the negotiation results. The challenge: It’s hard to conceive the power and the freedom of being a project manager after all those years of “slavery.”

Corporate Schizophrenia

Division and department managers are asked to maximize performance indicators and results (production, cost reduction, quality) by considering the other departments’ deliverables as the only way to achieve their own goals. Budget concerns, business pressures, and an increasing level of stress cause them to increase pressure on the project workers, and as a result, these collaborators are forced to be compliant.

Convention slogans such as “We Must Cooperate,” “We Are One Big Family,” and “We Work as a Team,” are often just that—slogans. They suggest good intentions however, the do not change behaviors and they often hide the reality of divisions and departments who are trying to achieve different goals (e.g., marketing a wide range of product vs. production efficiency).

Open Conflict, Cold War, Subdued Enemy...What Else?

Ecology relationship! It’s quite easy to change this film. The difficulties are in adopting a different language, after using an aggressive one for a long period of time. It is also difficult to remain focused on my professional relationship with my counterpart while considering the possibility that the content (the request) is not the focus, in the first phase of the negotiation. To give the relationship a sense, the problem is accepted and listened to without any judgment or consideration. Content is content, relation changes the meaning and the sense of any communication. Before putting any solution or request on the table, the relation has to be set. This is what I define as a “shared plan of reality,” which needs to be built.

As a project manager, do you have the impression that in times of increasing pressure on our business results, our project and program management competences are increasingly stressed by our client to make the project’s timing shorter and to decrease the budget?

Isn’t the business environment becoming more aggressive towards project managers? Are the project managers those who should advise on the risks and balance the tendency of overstressed managers to take shortcuts in procedures and process design? If you answered “yes,” to these questions, you may have experienced directly some episodes of domination power! How can we avoid entering into this horror film, even if we are strongly encouraged to participate?

From Film’s Side Actors to Directors

By changing the way we arrive to fight critical relations, we can use the simple principles of the ecological negotiation to get back into our competence power and become the director of our film again. Critical relations are when we have a request that conflicts with our colleague’s desires or needs or where the content is an imperative demand or communicated with a violent or threatening attitude.

This is possible by understanding how we can create a professional relationship and a cooperative context, before responding to any requests or discussion topic.

Hereafter, the assumptions of the ecology relationship include the following:

  1. The manager or the professional involved in it has the duty to create (and deal with) a professional solution with that very person.
  2. At least one among the negotiators has the knowledge to avoid the war language that leads to the fight and raises barriers. At least one of the negotiators is able to hear the charge trumpet, the words that announce the conflict, and to prevent the escalation of it and ban the use of the weapons of the hierarchical domination power. (Project managers do not have the guns to survive it!)

The expressions that raise barriers are “Yes…but…”, “Yes…you see here the problem is…”, “Yes…although…”, “It’s impossible to.”, and “Nobody can do it!” and so on.

The ecological negotiation opens the consciousness to include the matrix of the real effective relations we are acting in at this very moment with stakeholders. This allows us to decide how to break the dance of fighting for solutions and driving our energy and attention to build innovative, creative, long-lasting, and professional ecology relationships with them. Relations include the satisfaction of producing a certain number of creative solutions that can be examined. Here we ask ourselves how to negotiate instead of getting involved in critical relations—the ones we know, and where it’s easy to forecast that we will fight for defending (or for imposing) a solution.

From Good Intentions to Good Results

Often, the goal of a project manager is to proclaim his or her best intentions for the project. Is there a direct cause/effect proportion among good intentions and results? Not always, is the general answer.

Sometimes our best intentions produce zero results or produce the opposite ones; the catch is that the mind trap is clear. So, if we are not satisfied by the sensations and the comments we have after “negotiating” or “sharing” part of our project with stakeholders, and above all, if we aim to have different effects in negotiating with them, (e.g., accountability, easy and professional relationship, deep understanding, and effective results), the question is: Are we able to change the way we negotiate? Did we consider the advantages we have when building professional relationships with them and not assuming that the relationship is given by default?

Let me translate some frustrations (only a few) and certain feelings (very rare) I’ve perceived when training project managers in Italy, Spain, and France: “Well – should say a project manager say it’s a matter of fact!; I have certain problems making the stakeholders doing their part as planned! I’ve tried everything: assertiveness, advanced negotiation, even hypnosis and blackmail…All this takes time and doesn’t give me back for granted the stakeholder’s compliance. In my project manager’s dream, I have the power to persuade and to command them, the project is deployed on the right schedule, the risks are minimized and prevented, the quality, time, money (QTM) dimensions are respected, and my professional contribution is highly appreciated! The success becomes my best presentation!”

Out of a project manager’s dream, experience tells us that using the hierarchical and dominator model is convenient only in certain and few situations. Mostly, the use of the functional power impoverishes the collaborative intelligence and the quality of solution delivered, and results in a rip-off of a part of the stakeholder’s competence and empowerment.

What’s new? Nothing but the consciousness that the kind of mindset we use in a critical negotiation (not being aware of it) changes dramatically our results.

Let’s ask ourselves the following question: “Can I see which barriers in front of my counterpart that I should raise, even before meeting him or her? Am I aware how I’ll soon be in open (or undercover) conflict if I use the “dominator cultural model,” who acts as a troglodyte and resorts to violence and threats? Am I able to verify from them the compliance level the project needs?

As a project manager, I should be aware that when someone uses headship authority over me, then the relationship is loss and a conflict that becomes visible. This is an impoverishment in communication that raises the risk of missing warnings, feelings, and solution proposals.

As a project manager, I know how much easier it is to work with stakeholders with whom I’m able to reach consistent deals with, not only written down agreements or e-mails, but a sincere, real, and reliable compromise. So, demands, requests, problems, emergencies are not the origin of a conflict, but the situations where we can verify that our professionalism works and produces satisfaction.

A relationship is the process of building trust in communication. It requires someone who knows how to explore someone else’s intentions, assumptions, fears, needs, hopes, and desires. It is not meant to subdue or manipulate the counterpart. He enquires and depicts a common scene to help the project and its process to deploy the results.

Those who understand this will explore the other person’s position without judgment and prejudice. This person will have a curiosity attitude in understanding the counterpart’s position, context, and relationship matrix. A deal, and its control process, is based on an effective professional relationship that includes and preserves many interests. It’s verified by perceiving the satisfaction of all the people involved.

As a Project Manager, It’s Quite Hard to Control Stakeholders That Are Pre-eminent To Me in the Domination Authority Scale, Isn’t It?

The control and imperative mindset (to obtain compliance to the request, smashing the table with a club, if necessary) is a film we know by heart. Sometimes we are the smashers, and sometimes we are the ones who stop the club with the forehead. The troglodyte negotiation has only two ways out:

  1. The good one: We discuss for a long time and, finally, we found a deal. This happens after having modified one or both of the positions, visions, and solutions. We get out with the demand partially accepted and the problem only partially solved. In the meantime, some new problems and issues appear in front of us. (Mostly it is something like, “How will I explain this to my boss without raising his rage?”)
  2. The bad one: We discuss a little. Immediately our stress rises for pressure on result and timings. We strongly and clearly express the task and the duties. We nominate someone responsible and give that person the go-ahead. Then some consequences will appear.

Is This “Violence” of Forcing and/or Manipulating, the Only Option for a Project Manager?

Yes, sometimes it is. When I’m stressed, overcharged, and smashed down by the pressure of a due date, I want to be the almighty executive manager who orders the delivery under threat of terrible consequences. However, this is not our reality. So the question is: “How can I build a “nonviolent project negotiation” where the possibilities increase the satisfaction, the motivation, and the quality of the result? Which pattern can I run to have a different exit point?

Domination Power and Personal Competence Power (PCP)

The competence of transforming a clash of interests into positive professional solution generators passes through a set of relational skills. The personal competence in relationships has nothing to do with the domination model.

In the dominator’s pattern, the standards are to expose the request and the solution desired after a brief handshake, with an imperative attitude and a no listening position. They only wait for you to say “…Yes, but the problem is…” Then they force and/or manipulate you to an agreement by obeying their dominant will. This is done using open or hidden violence in language and attitudes. This is violence to submit someone to the dominator’s will. This person does not negotiate or share, but uses the “fax” communication.

Changing the assumptions and the objective of the negotiation is possible to build a nonviolent contest in the meeting. It will drive the attention to what is really important for both parties in that very moment. Maybe it’s an answer to be given in a very short time to someone; maybe it is a concern to be studied about a possible risk; or maybe it’s only the matter of correcting an omission or a mistaken decision. Personally, I prefer to explore and see the real situation, by going deeply into it without any fear or any embarrassment. It’s a project manager’s professional attitude.

I go straight to asking the questions that will help me discover the assumptions of my counterpart, assumptions that justify in a clear and simple way this person’s real actions and decisions. My duty is to help my stakeholders express their vision of reality by widening it and using an inclusive intelligence to examine the problem.

This is quite easy to do for those trained in relationship project management because of the general confusion, complexity of excuses, justifications, and fear of consequences, anxiety, and stress. It makes t people use only the same part of their competencies to help the project. When process owners enter a meeting, they are not always fully available to respond to the decision. They will defend it if someone disagrees with it; however, they are not available to see and openly express the assumptions they used to make their decision.

The focus on competence changes the way we enter meetings. It works deeply on the project manager’s responsibility, matching it with the power and the competence to choose the appropriate new action for a different result in satisfaction and accountability. An action can be examined with the people with whom we are having a relationship.

The personal competence for ecology relationships is above all a set of assumptions and behaviors that enlarge the possibilities to explore the world of the client or colleague. This exploration is done by asking and inquiring; meanwhile, the stockholder presents his or her requests.

The World’s Most Popular Business Sport: My Solution vs. Your Solution (Ready, Set, Combat)

What I like versus what you like.
What makes me safe versus what makes you worry.

This scenario is part of the experience for many of us. When I’m demanding something from a stakeholder, and the stakeholder says “No! We can’t,” I find it unacceptable. Now, I’m ready to enter a conflict. The worst is if I use violent language, then I lose any possibility to build a professional relationship with my counterpart.

It is normal for people to base their success on the competence to find a solution for the problem. It is important to focus the attention on the request’s content:

  • to understand it;
  • to quickly elaborate a set of personal opinions on it;
  • to imagine a strategy to arrive in a flash to set down the discussion points; and
  • to limit the topics to the comfortable ones, and then discuss the possible solutions.

The listener’s position is defensive. The listener must understand the requests, restrain the problem, elaborate on the easiest solution, and then to sell it to the boss. The exercises of ecological negotiations consider the content of the request that is being made or received. It is best to focus the attention on the person with whom we would like to negotiate.

Ecological relationship skills can be used when we want to change the results we have in those relationships and where the conflict can easily develop. I must understand my needs versus the solution the counterpart is proposing to me. It must be defended with the same energy that I have used in trying to have this person accept my request.

Ecological relationships consider survival and the need to express project management professionalism in critical negotiations, where an imperative demand reduces the negotiation possibilities and increases stress.

How The Headship Attitude Affects Our Professional Way to Operate?

In my experience, making a strong opposition to an imperative demand has resulted in discussions, clashes, and stress or unexpressed rage. This will affect our state of mind, and quite possibly that of our colleagues. (The assumption in this vision is that to fight to subdue my colleague in a win-lose dynamic is a perversion in professionalism).

The option I have is not to enter the conflict by widening the barriers, but to examining the problem while I’m exploring the scenarios and the status of relations involved in it. I will pay extra attention to the small aspects of the picture and look at the concerns the person is expressing. I want to help this person spill the beans without judging or expressing opinions, while offering my undivided attention and consultancy competence to the problem.

The questions that formulate help both to define the problem better and to explore all the negotiable possibilities.

After having set a professional relationship and having exchanged the signs of a mutual respect, then we can share a base for a reliable vision over the context in which the problem stands. After this, the generation of different solutions can be easily made: like brainstorming to explore the possibilities. A consultancy attitude helps us to become fully aware of concerns and to see constraints to our ideas for solution. Above all, I understand clearly what is important for my client the very moment that he or she expressing it to me.

Let’s explore the context, assuming the client’s point of view. By doing this we can understand the relational environment where the client operates. When we inquire with sincere curiosity and truth, trust the needs, and anticipate any possible objections, then we are the consultants for this person. We are professional project managers not someone who uses a salesperson’s techniques to make the stakeholder buy the solution. We go to negotiate and that means helping both of us.

Building a relationship means there is the possibility to avoid the use of a violent war language and our threat set: “You must…!” “You have to!” “This is non-negotiable!” “You don’t understand the situation!” “I’ll refer what you said: he will not be happy!” “He will get angry!”

The relationship prevents us from manipulating and using the dominating power’s weapon. The violence is also acted by abusing the emotional weakness of the counterpart. The aim is to take a dominant position by hitting the colleague where he or she is more vulnerable. Therefore, this person’s competence has been. It is matter of fact that stress increases thanks to the human ability to read the intention behind the facts!

Ecological Negotiation

The language that builds relationships is based on the recognition of the value of the persons seated at the table. Respect in our model means observation without any judgment. This allows me to remain connected with the present time and to understand what is on the table. I cannot follow my prejudice or my fear or stress.

In any case, the problem is a professional, not personal. I can open myself to a wider comprehension of human facts and nature and investing in getting a new result.

The negotiating model I set has no virtual situations or condition. We all have the negotiation workout of rebuilding languages and the critical relations of specific stakeholders. Your worst stakeholder is the best case to measure the power in the relationship competence. We assume that his or her interest is honest and legal. Otherwise, when someone is driven by an illegal or undercover purpose, the negotiating skills of the counterpart remain untold.

Mind Map

The mind map is a set of ecological relationship skills and technology that helps collaboration. It speeds up the process of exploring possibilities to set an action plan. Mind maps help to avoid direct confrontation and the solution clash. It can be used as collaborative tool that allows people to record and accept any contribution and to share the scenario’s analysis.


It is possible nowadays for a project manager to get their leadership power back because of his or her competence. Recently, project managers gave up their managing power over the project. They did it because they were pushed by the “managers with the club,”—the most efficient ones to lead start-up euphoria in a new business phase.

Now that most corporations and companies are in their mature/decline phases or into a dramatic change of business model, efficiency, risk prevention, cost cutting, and budget concerns are the driving concepts that require a manager to have a different attitude than a troglodyte one.

Project managers, to help the consciousness of the result and to preserve the business ecology, can return to their core competence of consulting managers. They can play their competence and all their personal power for consultancy and relationship quality, instead of seeking an anachronistic domination power.

I present a set of negotiating assumptions that change dramatically the negotiation results. The challenge: It’s hard to conceive the power and the freedom of being a project manager after all those years of “slavery.” Lets change our world of professional relationships.

© 2010, Silvio Lenares
Originally published as a part of 2010 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Milan Italy



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