The IT manager's complete guide to negotiation

Technology professionals find themselves fighting for budgets, staff and many other resources. We talk to the experts to learn the best approach to dealing with senior management

Whether it's a bigger IT budget, more staff, a new process, or a better vendor deal, it often feels like management ain't buyin'. But there's hope.

"Most people think that you're born with negotiation skills, but more and more, people are realizing that it's a skill that you can learn," said Alex Hanafi, the Canada-based director of program development and international operations with SAB Negotiation Enterprises, a US-based negotiation training company that has helped attain US$16 billion worth in deals globally. Negotiation training companies and consultancies have been popping up all over the place over the last decade or so, he said, and are getting more popular in the wake of the emphasis on internal employee training in soft skills.

He said, "But people need to recognize that they're already experts at negotiating." He said that everything from buying a new car to choosing a restaurant contains an element of negotiating. And IT staff? Said Ted Maulucci, CIO of large condo developer Tridel: "IT is pervasive and underlying everything, so, more than any other department, they are in constant negotiations, and thus have the opportunity to affect the company in a positive way."

Setting the scenes

Doing the prep work for your negotiation is critical. "You need to start sending those messages ahead of time -- you don't want them to be stunned with your request. Plant seeds about your priorities so that you can build cooperative momentum and reach small areas of agreement even before you reach the bargaining table," said Hanafi.

Maulucci, for example, practices "budget lead-up." He said, "You need to constantly show them 'here's what we've done, and here's what we're going to do.'"

"Get as many people involved as you can, from both the higher levels and the lower levels (of your department)," said Gerard Nierenberg, president of the US-based non-profit organization The Negotiation Institute and author of over two-dozen negotiation books, including the influential The Art of Negotiating.

Your coworkers and those around you can also come in handy when it comes to what not to do. People negotiate with each other on a daily basis, according to Hanafi, so see what works on you and what doesn't, and keep a journal where you can record the most persuasive tactics.

Try not to focus on the negative tack, though. "We tend to assume that we should get them to see what the worst possible outcome is, and how not doing it could rebound against us. "The problem is that this makes people risk-averse, since you're motivating by fear of a bad thing," said Hanafi, who pointed out the IT field are especially bad offenders in this area, often preferring doom-and-gloom tactics over the positive outcomes of a successful negotiation.

"It reminds me of an old IBM slogan: 'Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM,'" he laughed.

Put them in the mood

Setting the scene is also important, said Hanafi. "A relaxed environment is much more cooperative than the usual boardroom setting. It's a big myth that if there's a big issue that needs to be dealt with that a sterile conference room is the best place to resolve it. You need to get out to somewhere like a restaurant where you don't have those natural business defenses -- the most value comes not from competition-style negotiations, but cooperative-style negotiations," he said.

Said Maulucci: "When we're under negotiations with outside vendors, we go out with them socially so that we can get to know who they are. Comparing people on paper is much harder."

I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!

It's important to create a negotiating set-up that makes you feel positive and at-ease, Hanafi said. Dressing well will instill a sense of confidence, and bringing a subordinate into the negotiating room with you establishes your status and leadership qualities.

Another way to establish some power for your side is to write up an agenda for the negotiation. "By establishing an order in which to discuss things, you get process power," Hanafi said. "But don't say, 'Here's the agenda.' Instead, present it as an option that you thought might be helpful. When they agree to it, they're already in a relationship with you now."

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