Let’s make a deal

As manager of the program control office at Main Street America Group, Paul Freitas oversees IT projects at the insurance company’s Jacksonville, Florida, offices. He makes plenty of deals with vendors, but some of his toughest negotiations involve prying human resources from hard-pressed internal managers.

Similarly, Bridget Finerty, head of the service assurance center at The Mitre Corp. in Bedford, Massachusetts, negotiates with department heads for project resources and with internal customers on service-level agreements. Intracorporate bargaining is so much a part of her job at the not-for-profit research organization that she thinks of negotiation as “another word for navigating through conversations.”

Although vendor negotiations get a lot of attention, most IT negotiations are internal. “In IT, you negotiate all day long — with co-workers, teammates, internal IT clients and business clients, not to mention vendors,” says Lisha Wentworth, a senior facilitator at Ouellette & Associates in Bedford, New Hampshire, which runs negotiating workshops for IT professionals.

Negotiations in IT are challenging because they require “a wide bandwidth of personality,” says G. Richard Shell, professor of legal studies and management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Bargaining for Advantage (Penguin, 1999). “Inside negotiations require tact and diplomacy, and outside negotiations sometimes require you to be pretty tough,” he explains. Here’s some advice from experts for getting to a better deal:

Do your homework. “Preparation is critical,” says Robert Mnookin, chairman of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and author of Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in Deals and Disputes (Harvard University Press, 2000). Gather information about hidden pressures in the other party’s department. Consider possible scenarios ahead of time.

Don’t play to win. “One of the biggest errors in negotiation is to see it as a zero-sum game: What you win, I lose; what I win, you lose,”Mnookin says. “You can often expand the pie for the win-win.” This is especially important in intracorporate IT deals.

Consider the alternatives. Before you begin, think of the alternative if no deal is reached. For example, as the IT leader, can you move on to a different project if the other party won’t commit enough resources? “The better that alternative, the more power you’ll have at the bargaining table,” Mnookin says. During the negotiation, compare that alternative with whatever is on the table, Wentworth adds. “If the negotiation is going badly, ask yourself: Is agreeing to what they want better or worse than the alternative?” she says.

Find their interests. “It’s critical to ask questions so you can better understand not only their positions but the underlying needs and interests,” says Mnookin. “Interests” are the real needs behind stated positions. A “position” is that a manager can spare only two employees to work on an IT project, for example, but his interests may be in staffing a higher-priority project or gearing up for a sales campaign. Positions set up a “linear tug of war,” Wentworth says.

Beware the hidden agenda. If the other party gets evasive or his demands just don’t add up, he may have a hidden agenda, Shell says. Use your network around the company to try to find out what’s really going on.

Generate options. Brainstorm to generate options. Might you move a timetable up or back? Or use a business analyst earlier in the project to free him up later? “Take a piece of this option, and add this one, and they become a solution,” says Wentworth.

Recognize leverage. The person with the least to lose if the negotiation fails has the most leverage, Wentworth says. And leverage isn’t static. “As soon as the other person says, ‘I’ve got to have that,’ you’ve got leverage,” she says. Although you may be negotiating with an internal client several layers above you in rank, you probably have more leverage than you think. “IT is particularly powerful because it controls an asset that everyone needs,” Shell observes.

Empathize — to a point. “Manage the tension between empathy and assertiveness,” says Mnookin. “Some negotiators are great at assertion but lousy at listening. Others hear the other side and can’t hold on to their own interests. You need to do both.”

Be conscious of style — yours and theirs. Recognize your own negotiating style, and try to figure out the style of the other party.

“If I’m accommodating and he’s competitive, I may think we can work together, but he’ll ding me and I’ll get mad,” Wentworth explains. “If you know what to expect from the start, you can avoid falling into emotional traps.”