Episode 164 – Negotiation and Persuasion- Strategies to Success

Episode #164
Original Air Date: 10.31.2022

35 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Carlene Szostak

Two important interpersonal skills for project professionals to sharpen are negotiation and persuasion. Before you embark on your next stakeholder negotiation or try to persuade an unyielding team member, take a listen to Carlene Szostak as she leads us through some important considerations for successful negotiation and persuasion. Carlene describes the types of negotiation commonly employed in a project, and the core traits of a good negotiator. She describes the seven seconds pause as a powerful tool in negotiating, and she describes how to effectively prepare for the negotiation process. Often, project managers are reluctant to negotiate; they may think they lack authority to make the final decisions. Listen in for Carlene’s advice as she tackles our questions: What if someone utilizes unethical tactics while I am negotiating? How do I negotiate an extension to a project deadline? What are some traps to avoid in the negotiation process?

We also take a look at factors to consider in successful persuasion, such as: how to effectively respond to someone who is confrontational, how to avoid leaning into manipulation, how to effectively persuade an owner or stakeholder. Finally, Carlene talks about challenges facing project managers today and what critical changes that project managers can make to face the future effectively.

Carlene Szostak is a business leader, consultant author, and educator. She is an established senior leader with a broad range of experience managing people, process, and technology. Her background includes management level positions at H&R Block, Fiserv, and Scott Paper. She has managed strategic programs for the NFL, NBA, US Olympic Committee, Mattel, and Apollo Group.


Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"Well, with technology and with the ability to reach people regardless of where they are in the organization, those walls have come down.  And people that are in the position of power want to hear from the people closest to the projects.  So therefore the permission has been granted.  All we have to do is step into it."

- Carlene Szostak

"So I think successful negotiations isn’t just taking the first thing that somebody says, but listen for the story behind the answer."

- Carlene Szostak

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The podcast by project managers for project managers. Two important interpersonal skills for project professionals to sharpen are negotiation and persuasion. Before you embark on your next stakeholder negotiation or try persuade an unyielding team member, take a listen to Carlene Szostak as she talks about successful negotiation and persuasion.

Table of Contents

01:45 … Meet Carlene
02:38 … Types of Project Negotiations
03:40 … The Traits of a Good Negotiator
04:38 … Preparing for the Negotiation Process
05:45 … Finding the Why
07:29 … Listen Well
10:26 … Enhance Your Negotiating Power
12:43 … Dealing with Unethical Tactics
14:59 … Reading Body Language
16:12 … Negotiating for a Project Extension
17:02 … Traps to Avoid in Negotiations
18:48 … When Negotiation Stalls
21:57 … Kevin and Kyle
23:13 … Factors for Successful Persuasion
24:40 … The Right Mindset for Persuasion
26:37 … Dealing with a Confrontational Person
28:46 … Persuasion vs. Manipulation
30:46 … Tips to Persuade an Owner or Stakeholder
32:31 … Challenges Facing PMs Today
34:01 … Contact Carlene
34:30 … Closing

CARLENE SZOSTAK: … Well, with technology and with the ability to reach people regardless of where they are in the organization, those walls have come down.  And people that are in the position of power want to hear from the people closest to the projects.  So therefore the permission has been granted.  All we have to do is step into it.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  My name is Wendy Grounds, and with me in the studio is Bill Yates.  And we’re so glad you joined us today.  If you like what you hear, we’d love to hear from you.  You can leave us a comment on our website, Velociteach.com; on social media; or whichever podcast listening app you use.

Our guest today is Carlene Szostak.  She’s a business leader, she’s a consultant, author, and an educator.  She’s an established senior leader with a broad range of experience managing people, process, and technology.  So we’re going to talk about negotiation and persuasion.

BILL YATES:  You know, Wendy, one of the things that we’re talking about is the importance of getting to know the other person that we’re negotiating with.  And one of the books that I’ve read on negotiation is by Chris Voss.  It’s “Never Split the Difference.”  In that he offers some questions that I think are helpful for me when I’m thinking about a negotiation, and what does the person on the other side of the table want?  Here are some of these questions.  This is just food for thought.

“What about this is important to you?  How can I help to make this better for us?  How would you like for me to proceed?  What is it that brought us into this situation?  How can we solve this problem?  How am I supposed to do that, that thing that you’ve asking?”  These are just some questions that are food for thought for those that are trying to get in the mindset of that person on the other side of the table.

Meet Carlene

WENDY GROUNDS:  Carlene, welcome to Manage This.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Thank you so much for having me.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Won’t you tell us how you got into project management?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  So my career started with the NFL.  Again, that had nothing to do with project management, but that experience segued me into working for a Fortune 50 company that had multiple moving parts.  And our senior leadership did not believe in project managers.  We hired the team, the team did the work, and that’s it.  And one very excited and future-looking leader on the C Suite came in and said, “Well, why don’t we just test the model?”  I had the opportunity in my region to actually get a project manager to work for me, and they opened our eyes on the things that we didn’t even consider we had to do or think about.  And ever since then I have been passionate about making sure that organizations have project management influence in anything that’s touched that makes a difference for the business to move forward.

Types of Project Negotiations

WENDY GROUNDS:  Carlene, we’re excited to talk about negotiation and persuasion.  I think it’s a topic that is close to the heart of project managers.  But before we get into that, could you give some idea of the types of negotiation that is commonly used in a project?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Well, I would say that, as a project manager, they would probably say that they negotiate every day, all the time.

BILL YATES:  Everything, yes.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Exactly.  And working on projects are never routine based on my experience.  I would probably say that the most used is attempting to go with a win-win when they’re trying to resolve a conflict.  It could be a conflict between associates that are in impasse.  It could be a stall that just suddenly popped up.  Or it could be a request for a change of a deadline, or even stakeholders that suddenly decide that they want to have a report out and an explanation as to why we’re going that way.  I think it’s – I don’t know if you know the game Whac-a-mole.  It’s a county fair game.  I kind of see project managers doing that throughout their day.

The Traits of a Good Negotiator

BILL YATES:  Yup, that’s so true.  Things pop up, and you’ve got to deal with it.  In your experience with people that have gone into this area of negotiations, you’ve seen people do things well, and you’ve seen people do things poorly.  What are the traits of a good negotiator?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  I think just the training that a project manager goes through kind of sets them up for success.  But if I had to come up with the top three – I like working in threes – the top three that I would come up with would be the first one is to actually create a plan.  What the heck are they trying to accomplish?  And then the second one would be to organize it.  So identifying what’s important and what’s clutter.  And again, if we don’t sit down and take the time to do that, all of a sudden in negotiations you don’t know which way you’re going because you have all these ideas in your head.  So again, create a plan, organize what really is important and what isn’t, and then stay focused.  And so plan, organize, and staying focused would be my top three.

Preparing for the Negotiation Process

WENDY GROUNDS:  Creating that plan, what are some effective preparations that can be done to start that negotiation process?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  I guess I would start with talking about preparing.  And again, back in the day, this will show my age.  Back in the day we used to go to the library, we used to find microfiche, we had to read old newspapers.  It would take hours and hours and days for us to find out some information.  Now that information is at our fingertips.  So I would start there.  The Internet is a great, vast place to start with.  Go to using keyword searches, and of course friends in the network.  But knowing the history of the company, knowing the person that you’re interviewing in advance.

So these are fundamentals.  And we should be doing that regardless of what we’re involved in, if it’s job hunting, negotiating a podcast, doing some background information.  I think LinkedIn is a great source from a business perspective.  Where did they go to school?  Who are they connected with?  Are they connected to people that you’re connected with?  And then reach out to those folks and find out kind of how the other person thinks.

Finding the Why

I didn’t talk about this earlier, but one of the things that’s important as you’re negotiating is thinking the Why? question.  And there’s a game that we used to play, I call it the Why? game.  I’m sure if we Google searched it there’s an official title for it.  But practicing asking a question and then saying, okay, and why?  And why?  And why?  So for fun, outside of a negotiation setting, I would recommend people practicing that.  How many whys can you get to before you’ve actually kind of exhausted it?

Because sometimes when you’re prepping, you’re thinking at only one level.  And then once you get into the negotiations, the person says something, and then you can’t take it at face value.  You really have to say, so why?  And then you may end up finding out what the true truth is underneath that, if you take the time to ask the question.  So I would think that that’s probably the biggest thing from the preparation standpoint.

BILL YATES:  I completely agree.  I feel like there are two key pieces of information that we need to prepare before going into a negotiation.  And I think we tend to focus on the first, which is the subject matter.  Which is, okay, what is it we’re talking about?  What are the details in the contract?  And what does my team run into?  So we really get hyper focused on the subject matter that we’re going to negotiate or discuss.  And we forget the person.  That’s the second one.  And it’s so important.

Much of the reading that I’ve done on negotiations talks about empathy.  To your point, you’ve got to ask that question of why.  What motivates this person?  How are they likely to respond to this conversation we’ve going to have?  Based on their background, how do I expect them to respond?  Then how am I going to respond to that?  So it’s like a chess game almost, you’re doing a lot of planning in advance and thinking about different ways this could go. 

Listen Well

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Yeah.  Now, one of the things we touched on a little bit, but I think we should emphasize here, is that even though we’re asking questions, the listening part is the important part, too.  I mean, really listening.  And so, your success happens when you hear something and then respond to it.  So I think successful negotiations isn’t just taking the first thing that somebody says, but listen for the story behind the answer, I guess would be the way I would go.

BILL YATES:  Okay.  I’ve got to refer to a book, Chris Voss, “Never Split the Difference.”  It’s on negotiating.  Just to reemphasize what you said, because I totally agree with it, in his book he talks about the need for listening, and this is Chris Voss on it:  “In any negotiation, it’s not how well you speak, but how well you listen that determines your success.”  Not how well you speak, but how well you listen.

So you’re absolutely right.  I fall into this, I’m sure many people that are listening to this will fall into the same thing, Carlene.  I go into a negotiations, many times I’m so thinking about what I’m going to say, and I don’t even bring the right materials in with me to, oh, yeah, I need to write down what they’re saying.  And I need to have somebody else in there with me perhaps to just help me listen and make sure I’m capturing that information because that’s even more important.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Yeah, exactly.  And I talk about in my podcast, the global one that I did in March, I talk about seven seconds, and how important that when you do ask a question, that you keep your mouth shut and give a pause.  It is difficult to have that pregnant pause.  Obviously we’re not going to try it here on a podcast because they’re going to think they’re disconnected.  But taking seven seconds and allowing that person to actually think about what they’re going to say, and it gives you a chance to also formulate some of your thoughts.  So I think the seven seconds is a powerful tool in negotiating.

BILL YATES:  I agree.  That’s so true, yeah.  Okay.  Practical question.  How do you do this, like if I’m face to face with someone, it feels uncomfortable, but at least I can see their body language and kind of register that.  Give me advice on that, if I’m connected with somebody like we are here, the video connection, or if it’s only audio.  How do you do this and not freak the person out, and they think, oh, gosh, I’ve lost the connection?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Oh, you can preface it by saying something like, I’m going to give you a couple seconds.  I’m going to be quiet.  I’m going to give you a couple seconds to think about it.  And what I try to do, both if I’m virtual or audio only, is I use my fingers to count it down. And it’s not one, one thousand.  But it’s one, two, just a nice pace.  Again, they have a process.  You know, you have a process.  If I asked you a question, and I was quiet, the first thing you’re going to say is, oh, wait, she’s asking for me to respond.  That’s second number one.  And then each of the seven seconds you are busy in your head thinking about it, and then finally historically by the seventh second you’ll say something.

Enhance Your Negotiating Power

WENDY GROUNDS:  For the project manager who feels that the other side has more authority, that they don’t have the same amount of authority as the other party in the negotiating process, how can they enhance their negotiation power?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  So if somebody doesn’t have authority, in business, typically in business, you know the people, the partners that you’re going to be talking to.  And so you may be talking up, down, or across the organization.  But just because you don’t have authority doesn’t take you out of the negotiating game.  And negotiation should happen as long as you have your, again, what we talked about earlier, what’s your plan?  You’ve got to be organized, and you have to stay focused, and you have to have a commitment that you want a solution.

And a lot of it is our own self-doubt.  Oh, I don’t have the authority to do this.  Yes, we do have the authority to talk about whatever the topic is.  The key is we just have to be ethical.  And I think that’s the most important thing.  Our reputation, regardless of authority or not, is tied specifically to doing the right thing in the moment.  So if I was going to be negotiating with somebody that had the authority to do something, I would make sure that I wouldn’t say anything that was inappropriate or make statements that could come back to bite me.  I think we just need to feel comfortable.  If we have our plan and work our plan, we can negotiate with anyone.

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  Many times, Carlene, I think what has inspired me to step into what looks like a one-sided conversation where I don’t have the power to control the sponsor, for instance, or the customer, is I think about the team.  I’m like, all right.  I’m leading this team.  I owe it to them.  The thing that we’re negotiating on just makes sense for the team, makes sense for the customer, too.  I need to advocate for the team for the best of the project.  So sometimes that’s like an inspiration or something that will move me into that uncomfortable space, we’ll say.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Well, and Bill, you make a great point is – showing my age.  Back in the day, there was a hierarchy, you know, and you never jumped over your boss.  You always talked to your boss first.  Well, with technology and with the ability to reach people regardless of where they are in the organization, is those walls have come down.  And people that are in the position of power want to hear from the people closest to the projects.  So therefore the permission has been granted.  All we have to do is step into it.

Dealing with Unethical Tactics

WENDY GROUNDS:  You mentioned that we need to be ethical when it comes to negotiation.  But what if we’re negotiating with someone who is unethical, who uses unethical tactics, or they don’t respect the relationship?  What can we do then?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Okay.  That’s something that is serious that everyone should think about.  I think that if you jump into negotiations with a stranger, you’re setting yourself up for problems.  I think neither person would then have any skin in the game.  The solution in my mind is take the time to get to know the other person.  Find out about them, you know, what makes them tick.  If we did our homework and went to LinkedIn, we could talk about something personal.  Knowing something that we can start a conversation about it helps bring us together  before we even begin our negotiations.  So that starts building that trusted relationship, that really does, I think, help get to the win-win.

But I will say that deception does happen.  And that’s probably one of the most typical forms of unethical behavior that I’ve seen.  I would say that if you have a gut feeling about someone, you get that feeling that something’s just not right, I would start by asking the questions that I have in a different way.  Give them the benefit of the doubt first.  I view it, is it you?  Or is it me? 

So my first question is, you know, I don’t say it out loud, but to me I’m thinking, all right, am I asking the right questions?  Did I do something to offend them that I hadn’t thought about?  And I go through the list of questions, and then I think, all right, let me give my question in a different way to see if I, I don’t want to say “catch him in a lie,” but if I misinterpret it to be a mistruth.

And then what I would actually do, if I figure out that somebody is being unethical, I would ask for a do-over, you know, can we take a break.  I would tell them that I need to confirm some of the things that they have said just because I didn’t realize that, I didn’t know about it.  I would soften it so that I wouldn’t say “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”  I would say, you know, I need to confirm some of the things that you said.  I’d end the negotiations.  But before I walked away, I’d say, but let’s meet on Tuesday at 10:30 to finish this discussion. 

I think it’s common for people to get caught up in the moment.  And even the best of us may say things that might not be true.  So we have to train ourselves to make sure that we step back before we actually speak so that we’re not saying anything that we’ll regret later.

Reading Body Language

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  I want to bring something up.  This is a topic you probably have spoken on a million times, communication.  Seven percent of our communication is actually the words, and 93% is the tone of voice and the body language that we have.  It’s amazing when you think about negotiations and how important it is that, if I have a sense that maybe the person I’m talking with is not 100% ethical, then I’m looking for signs; right?  If I’m face to face with them, or if I have video, then I’m able to see is there a disconnect between tone of voice, the words that they’re saying, and their body language.  If two of the three are saying one thing, and the other says something else, then my spidey sense goes up.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  And your point is really true.  We have the ability to read body language.  And, you know, it could be something that’s just a shifting of the eye to the upper right.  Could be a minor nuance, but we have to pay attention to that.  And again, it’s okay to stop the negotiations.  I need to check what you just said, Bill.  I didn’t expect that to be even an issue.  Let me take some time to go research it, and we’ll come back and continue this.  So again, you always want to take the high road and never say, you know, your body language tells me that you are so full of it because we have to negotiate with them when you’re back together.

Negotiating for a Project Extension

WENDY GROUNDS:  If I’m negotiating for an extension of a project deadline, for example, what’s the best approach to have?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Again, I would start with being prepared.  I would go back to the fundamentals that we talked about earlier.  I would also play the What? Why? games.  You know, so why am I looking to have the extension?  Why should they accept the extension?  What would be the results if we didn’t deliver or couldn’t move the deadline?  What would be the outcome?  I would look up and down.  I would take a piece of paper, put a line down the side, and say the pros and the cons. 

And then we talk about the three-legged stool.  We didn’t talk about the Talent Triangle, which I think is really important for project managers.  But the three-legged stool is something that I learned, you know, in graduate school that talks about cost, quality, and schedule.  And so I would pull those out.  And I would say, what are the effects on the stool by getting the extension?

Traps to Avoid in Negotiations

BILL YATES:  Carlene, what are some traps to avoid in the negotiation process?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Let me see if I have this quote correct.  It’s from Ben Franklin.  He says:  “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”  Again, poor planning I would say is everything.  And I would start with if I’m walking into a negotiation, and I get to plan first, I would list everything that I think is really important.  What is it that I really, really, really want to focus on?  And what is my ultimate goal?  And then now that I’ve got this dream list, I would unfortunately bring it down to three.

I think the rule of three is really important.  You can’t talk about more things than three because it starts to become convoluted.  You’re not too sure what it is.  And then I would think through what is it that I’m willing to give up?  I wouldn’t share it with you, but I would know in my hip pocket that if you said this is non-negotiable, if I already know that I’m willing to take it off the table, then I’ve already decided all that.  So again, planning, I think, is really important.

I think the other thing that happens is getting caught up in the moment.  Sometimes what we’ve talked earlier is good people do bad things when they’re caught up in the moment.  So I think we have to remember that we’re still us.  And who we are after we walk out of the negotiations, our reputation and what happened in that room, even though it might be just the three of us here and no audience, that reputation’s going to keep going forward.  So we just need to make sure we don’t get caught up in the moment. 

And then we haven’t spoken about this, but I think it’s important to think about there’s cultural differences.  So if we’re negotiating cross-culturally, I think that it’s important to understand the cultural perspective that somebody else brings to the table.  And again, do the research.  The research will help you so that you’re not assuming because you see someone that looks Indian that they’re from India.  I think those are the fundamentals.

When Negotiation Stalls

WENDY GROUNDS:  And if your negotiation stalls or breaks down, what can one do then?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Well, there’s no one surefire way to jumpstart a stalled negotiation.  But I would go back to we’re not robots.  I mean, we’re people sitting across the table from each other, I think we can use humor.  I wouldn’t use jokes.  And jokes can be offending, you know, obviously the comics out there practice their routine for hours and days before they ever present it.  We’re not comfortable doing that.  But humor works.  I think it releases some tension in the room.  And I’ve used this a couple times.  “Well, that’s 60 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”  It’s silly.  It’s off the cuff.  And then I would go back to the seven seconds.  I would give them seven seconds.  If something’s stalling, give them some time to think through that.

So again, going back to let’s get another date and time on the table.  Maybe you have to bring somebody else in to negotiate.  Maybe we’re just not clicking.  And maybe that’s the reason it’s stalling.  And sometimes fresh eyes can look at it with a different lens.  I think I’m perfect, but there may be emotional baggage that somebody brings to the table, and there’s a clash of personality.  And again, back to is it me or is it you.

Also I would probably ask am I negotiating the right thing.  I mean, and when you think about something stalling, is it stalling because somebody doesn’t have or want to say, I don’t know where you came from, we were supposed to do X, and now we’re talking about Y.  So think about what information that I haven’t shared, that maybe I need to give more information or get more information. 

Again, back to those listening skills that we talked about.  And then a trusted relationship.  And, you know, if we may be in the throes of a heated discussion, but we have a relationship, then chances are that if we kind of step back and then come back together, we both want a good outcome.  I think that’s important to think about.  So in negotiations we talk win-win, win-lose, lose-lose.  And there’s one that is basically maybe we just don’t negotiate.  And that’s okay, too.

BILL YATES:  I love the idea of taking a break from a conversation.  If a negotiation is breaking down for whatever reason, I think it is so powerful to do what you said.  Don’t just say, okay, let’s take a break.  Let’s take a break “until.”  Put that future date out there so that we’re not walking away from the table, throwing our hands up.  And then asking advice.  For me it’s so helpful if I can replay a conversation and share my thoughts with somebody else who knows me, knows my preferences and kind of my management style, et cetera.  They can give me great advice and great insight and I love the advice of taking a break, sharing your thoughts and where things stand with another trusted person.  And then stepping back into it, hopefully with more productivity.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  And a conclusion.  I mean, when you’re going into a negotiation, the whole purpose is for you to have a conclusion.  You need to know that when you start the conversation, there’s going to be an end.  And then you also – we’re really not going to spend a lot of time talking about this, but an important part is when you’re done, you’re done.  If I put aside an hour, and you and I are all done in 35 minutes, it’s okay.  We’re done.

Kevin and Kyle

WENDY GROUNDS: We’re going to take a small break, and listen to Kevin and Kyle.

KYLE CROWE: John F Kennedy once said: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” Negotiating is such a fundamental skill that you use virtually every day. It plays a critical role in both the success of your career and your life outside of work.

KEVIN RONEY: I generally have a mindset that everything about a project is negotiable. However my objective is not to win every negotiation but to achieve a mutually acceptable solution for both parties. It actually helps to build relationships and trust among both parties.

KYLE CROWE: Good preparation avoids being caught by surprise, so research, research, research … coming to the table with a solid plan will provide you with an essential background for effective negotiations. Other key qualities of being a good negotiator is be patient, take your time to reach satisfactory agreement – you can’t rush this process. And have a positive attitude. That always helps!

KEVIN RONEY: Negotiating is such a fundamental skill. It plays a critical role both in success of our careers and our lives outside of work. There’s a course we offer at Velociteach by Neal Whitten called ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE NEGOTIATION SKILLS  I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn some important tips to become an effective negotiator.

Dr. Chester Karrass said: “In business as in life, you don’t get what you deserve you get what you negotiate.”

WENDY GROUNDS: Thank you guys! Let’s get back to talking with Carlene.

Factors for Successful Persuasion

WENDY GROUNDS:  We want to move on to talk about persuasion now.  What are some factors that we should consider for successful persuasion?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Persuasion or influencing is getting you to do what I want you to do.  Well, I would say that in the interest of meeting any project goal, project managers should really use every tool that they have.  I mean, it’s not just negotiation or persuasion.  It could be lobbying.  It could be inspiring.  Or it could be micromanaging.  I mean, there are different tools that we have, so we shouldn’t look at the job as myopic.  It really is broader than that.  I think success really comes back down to establishing trust and developing credibility.  Do what you say you’re going to do.  Support your team.  And again, try to stay away from micromanaging, but sometimes you have to do it.

With persuasion and project managers, I would listen to everything.  Before I tried to persuade you, I would actually pay attention to what you have to say.  We learn so much from our teams if we take the time to hear what they have to say.  Find out what makes them tick.  Find out some facts that could help you, I mean, you may want to persuade them to go down one path.  And as you listen to everything, your path may still be the right one, but your persuasion’s going to be so much easier.  And if you have your plan to persuade, and you listen to some really compelling reasons the other way, you have the flexibility to incorporate that into your persuasion.  So again, listening skills.

The Right Mindset for Persuasion

WENDY GROUNDS:  Let’s talk a little bit about mindset.  When we go into persuasion, sometimes we tend to have this mindset that we’re going to go and battle this out.  So what’s the best approach to have, if you want to persuade?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  So our mindset is everything.  For negotiations, for persuasion, I hesitate to use the word “battle” because it paints the picture of, in my mind, of winning by all costs.  Takes my opponent down.  I’m taking him down for the kill.  I win, and everyone else loses.  But yes, the right mindset is important since it really governs how we act and we speak and we react.

BILL YATES:  There are times when that project manager or project leader needs to get things done and sees the clear path and wants to bring the team along with her, wants to convince the customer this is the right way to go.  And I find myself sometimes I have to make sure, okay, this is a people business.  We’re dealing with people.  Treat people with respect.  Don’t trample on them, you know, for the sake of getting this new technology to work or getting this thing to the field faster than we thought we would be able to originally.  So having the right mindset of respect and bringing the team along with it, making it a team event, not a me pushing and, you know, “Come on, behind me, we’re going to take this hill.”

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Well, and, you know, Bill, you make a great point.  The best approach that we need to adapt is take the word “me” out of the discussion.  It really is us.  And being a part of a team decision or project is far more appealing to people than just it’s all about me.  And so we’re doing this for me, guys.  Come on, we can deal with it.  You know, win one for me.  Yeah, that’s going to get – that’s going to get a lot of play.  The other part is explaining what’s in it for them.  There’s a lot of times that project managers know more than the team does.  And so explaining the why. 

People are thinking human beings.  And if you explain, let me tell you the reason why we’re doing this.  Let me tell you why, if someone can see that, they can appreciate where you’re trying to come from.  And again, sometimes the bigger picture is only seen at a higher level, and therefore they’re working within the scope that they have.

Dealing with a Confrontational Person

BILL YATES:  A follow-up question on that because I get that.  People are all wired differently, and some are confrontational.  Some you’re trying to persuade the team to go a certain path.  And you may have one person who’s just very confrontational, is like, no, we’re not going to do that, that’s not what we agreed to originally.  Or that’s not going to work, and here are all the reasons.  What’s an effective approach for a leader to take with that confrontational person?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Early in my career I had the opportunity to inherit someone that had had some season.  They’d been 28 years in the business, and here’s a young kid coming out of school thinking that she knew everything and found out she knew nothing.  And I had that person.  It was in Pasadena, California.  And what I needed up learning, my boss said the quickest way to get somebody that is confrontational on your side is to spend time with them.  Which feels wrong.  You say, “Oh, who wants to spend time with that person?”  Because they’re opinionated. 

But building a relationship to understanding why.  And let me tell you the bigger reason why we’re doing the change.  And let me let you see my side.  Again, I found that when you can take that person and take the time with them, they become your biggest ally.  So I would look at it as an opportunity to get your team to move faster by getting the person who’s most confrontational on your side.

BILL YATES:  Scott Berkun is an author that I respect a lot.  And he talks about the key to success for project managers.  It’s all about relationships.  And even for those that you think are, oh, gosh, I can’t believe I’ve got him on my team again.  He’s always confronting everything that I want to do.  But yeah, get to know them, develop that relationship, and then you’ll value that.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Yeah.  And Bill, to your point, too, is that it’s not doing it in the group.  It’s a private one-on-one conversation so that we can let everything out.  I mean, it could be, you know what, you’re the new kid, and six months from now I’m going to get a new kid, and then six months from now I’m going to get another new kid.  I mean, you don’t know what they are – 28 years of experience in the business, they’ve probably seen it all.  So to be able to hear from their perspective and tell them, in the group, we’re going to get together now.  We’re going to be with Wendy and Bill and the rest of the team, and let’s just make sure you and I are aligned before we get into that room.  So it’s laying the cards on the table.

Persuasion vs. Manipulation

WENDY GROUNDS:  Thinking about the ethical side of persuasion, there can be a fine line between persuasion and then manipulation.  How can we kind of make sure we’re not leaning into that manipulation?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  I think the way to avoid manipulation is, if we’re finding ourselves attempting to control somebody else’s feelings, making them feel bad, in my mind that’s manipulation.  If I’m going to blame somebody, so I’m manipulating.  Well, Wendy, the reason that we’re doing whatever is because – so I’m blaming you.  I’m making you feel bad about it.  Or I outright lie.  So those are the things that we want to stay away from.

You know, again, we’re all human.  I think that we can control what we say and making sure that we try to persuade the people.  And I think persuasion is more powerful than manipulation.  Me telling you in a way that has you inspired is better than saying, well, if you don’t do it, then you know what, when it comes time for reviews, it’s going to be affecting you.  I’m manipulating you.  So I think that we have to look at how the other person’s going to feel about it, and if we’re doing anything that makes it look, because we’re reading their body language, or it sounds like we’re trying to manipulate you, it’s our job to stop and make sure that we don’t lean on the manipulation as the easy out.

BILL YATES:  This advice on both these topics, negotiation and persuasion, there’s a refrain, there’s a common thread of respecting the other individual, getting to know that other individual, building relationship with them.  I so appreciate that.  That’s a sound way to go into something, knowing that you’re going to make the team more healthy and come up with the best environment for collaboration.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  And the nice thing is that, if you do have relationships with everyone on your team or in your organization, if you are using manipulation and not realizing it, having someone that has a trusted relationship with you to say, “Hmm, hey, you know what, Carlene?  You probably were trying to manipulate.”  So people have to feel good enough and comfortable enough that they can call you out on it.  Because, again, we’re human, and you could get caught into it.

Tips to Persuade an Owner or Stakeholder

WENDY GROUNDS:  Let’s talk about some techniques.  If you have some useful tips that you can give that a project manager can use to effectively persuade an owner or a stakeholder, particularly if it’s an entry-level project manager, how can they position themselves to persuade their owner?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  So I would go back down to the rule of three.  First thing would be to have all of your facts.  This is really an easy way for your boss to say yes.  So if you come to the boss or the owner with only partial facts or really partially thought out information, it really becomes an obstacle for them to say yes.  So know what specifically you want from the stakeholder or the owners that you want them to say yes to.  And sometimes we don’t think about that.

The second one is you need to show the pros and the cons.  If you only lay out the reasons why you need to do this, and you need to say yes to this, you’re leaving the owner or stakeholder in the position that they have to think about, all right, so what is the disadvantage of that?  I’d like to make it so clear that the thinking was done by me that the owner’s answer is just yes.

Then the third point that I would say is that we need to understand that the answer could be no.  And it’s okay to have a no answer.  Sometimes the answer is for bureaucratic reasons.  It could be budget reasons.  It could be there’s a merger going on, you know, within the organization.  And because it’s not public information yet, we can’t share it.  But, you know, I know it.  Sometimes there’s something more pressing that’s going to take priority.  Or, worse yet, these are the ones that are the most frustrating is four other people came in with the exact same idea.  And if I say yes to you, then I’m going to have four other people that I’m going to say no.

So that would be the things that I would do, those three things, understanding that there could be a no, being able to truly share the pros and cons and then have all my facts.

Challenges Facing PMs Today

BILL YATES:  Carlene, what is the biggest challenge for project managers today?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  I would say that the biggest one is not taking the Talent Triangle seriously.  When I first started working with project managers, they were relegated to a windowless bullpen where we pulled them out only when we needed them, and we sent them back to the dark hall until we needed their expertise again.  And again, I know that’s an exaggeration.  But I painted the picture because I believe that the Talent Triangle really opened the doors for project managers and gave them some street cred so that they have now the other two legs of the stool.  And I think that project managers are in the C Suite and bringing robust knowledge that they weren’t doing before. 

So when you look only at the PDUs, and they’re honing their project management skills, I think that’s great.  But they need to step back and look at how they can be more value to the organization.  And PMI set them up for that.

WENDY GROUNDS:  What are the most critical changes that project managers can make to face the future effectively?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  I believe that PMI tracks the future needs of project managers.  I looked at the website.  And, you know, the last number I heard was about 22 million new project managers are going to be hired by the year 2027.  Some people think that artificial intelligence can take on some of the traditional project management roles like data collection, tracking, recording.  And I would encourage everyone to read the book “Hidden Figures,” or watch the movie, I think it’s a 2016 movie, to see how you can partner with technology and not fear it.

Contact Carlene

WENDY GROUNDS:  If our listeners want to contact you or hear more about your work, what’s the best way they can reach you?

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  Well, I’d love to hear from your listeners.  Obviously the easiest way to find me is on LinkedIn, or message me.  I’m also on the PMI website.  If your listeners contact you, feel free, I give you permission to give them my email.  I would be happy to talk to anyone because I’d love to hear from them.

BILL YATES:  This has been fantastic.  Thank you so much for your time.  Really appreciate that.

CARLENE SZOSTAK:  It was fun.  It was great meeting you guys.  Thank you so much for having me.


WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  Thank you for joining us.  You can visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can subscribe to this podcast and see a complete transcript of the show.  You’ve earned your free PDUs by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com, choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page, click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

6 responses to “Episode 164 – Negotiation and Persuasion- Strategies to Success”

  1. Shiraz Khan says:


  2. Megan says:

    Awesome podcast topic! I reference Whac-a-mole all the time! Thank you!

  3. Yanet says:

    Insightful discussion, really enjoyed listening to this podcast.

    • Wendy Grounds says:

      Thank you for listening! Carlene does have very practical advice for us all about negotiation and persuasion tactics.


    Thank you!

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