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Top Management Resource - 2012

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Difficult Negotiation? Check Yourself!


Why are some people difficult? Maybe they are mad at you. Maybe they do not like working on this project. Maybe they are being difficult to hide some other issue. So many maybes.

What you do know is that they are blocking your ability to move forward. Anytime any type of negotiation is required, you know that the first thing this person will do is devise some type of barrier.

We cannot do that because… That will never work because… I cannot accept that approach because…
This is seriously getting in the way of your success.

And YOU are not about to let that happen. You have a project to lead and a schedule and budget to meet. You don’t have time for barriers. Well guess what my friend? You need to make time for barriers. In negotiations difficult people put up barriers. In fact there are five common barriers that you will encounter. Can you guess the first barrier?
Go on give it a try.

The first barrier on the list is Y-O-U. Now you might thinking, “Hey, you do not even know me. How do you know I am the problem?” I do not need to know you to know that it is human nature to have an emotional response when you think that someone is not cooperating with you. Especially when you believe this is not the first time and especially when you believe this person is being intentionally difficult. With all of that going on in your head, it would be difficult for it not to create a barrier. And what you need is a breakthrough, not a barrier.

Your first step in negotiating with a difficult person to get your emotions in check. What you really want is to feel like the two of you are sitting next to one another, that you are on the same side. And you cannot do that until you give yourself a chance to calm down. Take a break. Do not respond out of anger or spite or an urge to get even. Do not respond until you can do so in a calm and even tone.

Once you can do this, you are on your way to sitting on the same side. The next thing you want to do is to step to their side. Stepping to their side is all about trying to understand the situation from their perspective. It is about being confident that you will be able to come to an agreement. It is about finding common ground and things you can agree on, even if it is agreeing that this situation is challenging. That is a start; together you have reached an agreement. This might just pave the way to other agreements and it allows you both to show that you are not always in combat mode.

Consider the following quote:

“Rarely is it advisable to meet prejudices and passions head on. Instead, it is best to conform to them in order to gain time to combat them. One must know how to sail with a contrary wind and to tack until one meets a wind in the right direction.” – Fortune de Felice, 1778

Once you have your emotions in check and you have stepped to their side, it is time to sit side-by-side and work as partners. Remember, this is a difficult person you are negotiating with and this means you will face more barriers. And each barrier requires a breakthrough. A breakthrough you are more than capable of facilitating.

Curious about the other four barriers? I hope you can come see me at the PMI-OC Building Leaders for Business conference on September 10, 2016. Together we will discuss each of the remaining barriers along with some tips on how to turn those barriers into breakthroughs. Click here or cut and paste this link into your favorite browser to learn more.

Hope to see you soon!

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Team 4 and the Really Bad Week

“A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.” -Ray Davis

Team 4 was the team to watch. They started their project off so smoothly. They avoided all of the pitfalls that had tripped up Teams 1, 2, 3 and 5. In status meetings it was always the project obstaclesmanager for Team 4 who delivered the good news. In fact the executive sponsor for the entire program began asking the Team 4 project manager to give her status last, so that the meeting could end on a high note.

The other teams were not being poorly managed. It was a challenging program involving performing data conversions on applications that had been around for approximately twenty-five years. Very few of the original coders of these applications were still around. So many people had worked on the programs, using so many different styles that the term spaghetti code was possibly created just for them.

For more than a month Team 4 met every due date and challenge. And then it happened. In week 6 the team hit a major snag. At the end of the week they had not hit their goal. They had only completed about half of their planned work. On Monday, the day of the status meeting, their project manager was very nervous. She had not had to report difficult news before and she did feel pressured to be the one who routinely delivered the good news. Her status was well received. Yes, the sponsor and other stakeholders were disappointed. But as one of them said, “It would be unreasonable to expect that Team 4 would not experience issues, when all of the other teams have had such difficulties.” The team was anxiously waiting for her to let them know how the status meeting went. She was able to tell them that nobody was mad at them and that everyone had complete confidence in their abilities.

By the end of week 7, very little progress had been made. The team worked on as much as they could while two of them worked with some technical experts to determine the problem. By Friday morning everyone was discouraged and some were pondering whether or not they should come in on Saturday. At 11:45 am on Friday the project manager called the entire team to an emergency meeting. She went from cubicle to cubicle, saying, “Drop everything and come to the conference room right now!” The team shuffled in, waiting to be yelled at. Instead they found that their project manager had ordered lunch for them. She encouraged them to come in and sit down and enjoy lunch. There was just one rule, no talking about work. And for one hour they sat and spent time together and did NOT discuss the project, the schedule or the status of the current technical issues. At the end of the day she went from cubicle to cubicle, ushering them out and urging them to go enjoy the weekend and to come back refreshed on Monday.

Once again on Monday, the status report to the stakeholders was about missed deadlines. Once again the stakeholders were encouraging. In the middle of week 8, there was a break in the case. An obscure piece of code combined with a rare piece of data was causing the problem. Cautiously a fix was designed and applied. By Friday of week 8 the team had caught up with the deliverables from week 6.

On Monday of week 9, the team arrived to a mini breakfast celebration. There was fresh fruit and yogurt and cinnamon rolls and donuts. Every team member had a “Congratulations you survived the curse of Week 6” certificate waiting for them on their desk.

It would be wonderful if for the rest of the project Team 4 went back to all smooth sailing. But that was not the case. Although the team never had another issue as challenging as the one that surfaced during week 6, they continued to have their share of challenges. They still were a stronger team than Teams 1, 2, 3 and 5. They still maintained the best track record in terms of meeting their deadlines. It was not that their work was easier or that all of the strongest people were on Team 4. It was that Team 4 and their leader made a conscious decision NOT to let the challenges come between them and NOT to let the challenges break their spirit.

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Your Deadline is Coming, Will YOU Be Ready?

“Morning comes, whether you set the alarm or not.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

When we are Alarm Clockfortunate, then morning comes whether we set the alarm or not. In our project work, our deadlines are going to arrive, whether we plan for them or not. This is not an argument in favor of fatalism and lack of planning, “Well the deadline will come whether we are prepared or not, so why bother?” It is a reminder that the deadline will come, so why not be prepared? Setting the alarm is a metaphor for planning and morning is your deadline. The deadline will come, whether or not you have a plan.

To return to the analogy of morning, you can face your day with calm and preparation or with surprise and chaos. You have at least one friend who wakes up everyday and everyday has a difficult time pulling himself together and getting out the door. Yet at least five days a week he has the same destination, the same commute and the same dress code. But each morning is like a surprise to him. He does not know where his clean clothes are; he does not have gas in the car or time for breakfast.

Then there is you, your clothes are ready, your lunch is packed, if you need to stop for gas you allow for time in your schedule, your morning routine flows smoothly MOST of the time. Your planning does not guarantee a perfect morning. Your planning positions you for an easier morning, even when things start to fall apart.

The purpose of the plan is not guaranteed perfection. The purpose of the plan is to provide for a better experience. To increase the likelihood of meeting your goals and when changes and issues arise (and they will), you will be less disrupted and recover more quickly.

The difference between you and your friend is that when he gets out the door and he is already late and running low on gas, even if everything else falls into place, he is most likely going to be late. On a day when he is already late and running low on gas and everything else falls apart (traffic jam, car trouble), he is going to be exceptionally late. You on the other hand will be on time MOST days and on that rare day when you are late, the fact that it was out of your control will be understood,

A project manager who does not lead her team in good planning will earn the reputation of being disorganized, and barely making or often missing deadlines on a regular basis. A project manager who leads her team in good planning will earn the reputation of being a strong professional who is prepared and makes deadlines with ease. Only situations beyond her control and the control of her team cause them to falter. And when this happens, they respond quickly and effectively.

Like it or not, the deadline will come. Will you be ready?



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Picture Perfect: 3 Attitudes that will Advance YOUR Career

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Making Magical Meetings


“Whoever invented the meeting must have had Hollywood in mind. I think they should consider giving Oscars for meetings: Best Meeting of the Year, Best Supporting Meeting, Best Meeting Based on Material from Another Meeting.” – William Goldman (Adventures in the Screen Trade, 1983)

Once in a while it happens, the spontaneous amazing magical meeting. A team gets together and has productive and energetic discussion. Everyone is highly engaged and stays focused and on topic. Everyone walks away knowing that their time was well spent.

Does this happen with your team meetings? Or are you still waiting for some meeting magic to occur? Don’t wait for the magic make it happen. Magical meetings do not materialize because the stars have aligned; they materialize when you work hard to make them happen. Magical meetings are the result of going beyond the basics of agendas, starting and ending on time and taking notes.

Timing is everything – Do you select your meeting time because a conference room is available and MOST attendees are free? It can be frustrating simply trying to get a group together, but that does not mean you should grab the first open time slot for your meeting. Unless your meeting is an emergency, pick a time of day that works for the majority of attendees. Not the very first or the very last 30 minutes of the day, and not during mealtimes unless you are catering.

Location, location, location – That old real estate adage is true for meetings too. It is not just a case of any available conference room will do. Try to find a location that is comfortable, with enough seating, adequate temperature control and accommodates your technology requirements. If you must settle for a location that is less than adequate, then acknowledge the shortcomings of your location and try to work around them. It also does not hurt to shorten the duration of the meeting and perhaps include some special perk for attendees for being good sports.

Speak up – If your attendees cannot hear you or one another, then nothing was really said. Consider your audio/visual requirements carefully. If you need a microphone or sound system, then make sure you have one. Arrive early and test it. Have a back up plan in case you experience technical difficulties. It is frustrating for you and your audience to sit and wait for sound checks, system reboots and other equipment tests. The longer people wait, the more pressure there is for the rest of your meeting to be beyond perfect.

It’s not an eye exam – If you are using visuals, make sure that they are clear, not overly complicated and easy to view. MOST people will not complain if what you display is too large (as long as it is scaled properly), but MANY people will have a difficult time with images that are too small, too blurry etc. Test it yourself in advance from the back of the room. Stay away from fancy fonts and red text or light colored text.

Curate your guest list – All of your careful planning can go awry if the right people are not included or if the wrong people are included. In a perfect world you only invite those who are absolutely necessary in order to have good productive discussions. In a perfect world you can keep enemies and rivals apart. In the real world you often must include unnecessary people for political reasons. Sometimes you have to have warring factions in the same room. Sometimes this can be productive and helpful. If not, you might invite them to separate sessions. For those who want to attend, but are not really necessary, perhaps offer them a recap or a follow-up session. You can frame it like this, “I know how busy you are, perhaps I can come see you and catch you up on our session.”

Be a good host/hostess – Be aware of how your audience is responding to the meeting. If something changes, the temperature or the lighting or the mood, ask people if they are comfortable. Do what is within your power to bring people back to a productive frame of mind.

Know when to call it quits – You already know that good meetings end on time. Sometimes it is necessary to end early. If all planned business has been accomplished, consider letting people go. Everyone loves having extra time back in his or her schedule. Beyond this, if the meeting conditions just are not right, the audio/visual is not working, or maybe the room is uncomfortable or the timing is off, call the meeting to an end and coordinate a reschedule. It is tempting to just push ahead, but consider your results carefully. Will pushing people to continue when they are clearly uncomfortable provide the right results? Not sure? Ask the group. Sometimes just putting it out there, that perhaps we should try again, helps people to decide together to make things work. If so, it is now a group decision and not you disregarding their needs in the name of productivity.

If the above sounds like some of the basics of event planning, well then – good! Magical meetings are events. Events that people actually look forward to with enthusiasm. There really is no mystery behind the magic – YOU make it happen!

Go make magic!

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