E-news for the Construction Division Spring 2012

A Few Strategies Can Make All The Difference In Negotiating

Steven Storts

For more than two decades, the use of negotiating skills in the construction industry has steadily increased—from project start-up through the performance phase to close-out. Still, management consultants point out that not all stakeholders are taking full advantage of some of the more proven negotiation strategies.

Project managers, by their own nature, tend to negotiate almost everything they do, but sometimes they overlook the actual process itself, thereby adversely affecting any desired outcome. Research further shows that engineers and other professionals alike tend to negotiate within certain levels of predictability, a routine that should be avoided whenever possible. Ironically, the key to effective negotiating often rests on the deployment of two basic interpersonal skills: patience and positive behavior. Without some occasional introspection or reinforcement, though, these skills can be elusive for some and totally abandoned by others.

Engineering negotiators who strike the worst deals are generally those who lack patience. Their anxiety becomes a weakness as they hurriedly move toward a conclusion of the negotiation process without fully understanding the consequences. Telegraphing a weakness only emboldens the other side to “hang around” and become more demanding. Also, impatient negotiators can be more susceptible to making unnecessary or poor opening offers, granting frivolous concessions, or engaging in impulse buying or settling.

One suggested way for not losing patience is to never negotiate against a deadline, if possible and affordable. Studies on conflict resolution and negotiation have revealed that in project management, those who tended to wait until the last moment to resolve an issue always seemed to pay for it one way or another. In other words, the bottom line price gets higher for less in return.

Savvy negotiators know the importance of maintaining a positive attitude at the table; they know that likeability can be a useful tool in gaining concessions. Posing a constant adversarial relationship with the other side will do little to persuade them or influence their behavior to anyone’s advantage. Similarly, dwelling on deadlocked issues or pointing a constant finger of blame or fault will generally result in just more of the same. Instead, try to convey more of a sense of optimism—an inexpensive substitute for making early concessions. Negotiating parties usually make concessions to gently coerce the other side into dealing, but an optimistic attitude is a better, more patient approach to the same end. After all, if the other side does not see a deal as being possible, it will not bother making concessions anyway. 

When engaged in negotiating, it is also important to steer clear of the intimidation game and never reward intimidation tactics. Such conduct becomes ineffective when not acknowledged or rewarded with concessions. Likewise, do not try to defeat intimidating conduct. Just let it run its course, remain calm and neutral, and then redirect the negotiating process back to the underlying needs of both sides. However, be aware that acceptable behavior is not always guaranteed and that rational negotiation can be the exception, rather than the rule, when resolving conflicts.

Beyond honing interpersonal skills, initiating a favorable negotiation largely depends on research in advance of any formal meetings. The most effective negotiators are those who do not take any position until they have gathered insightful information regarding the other side’s perspective. Examples of information to obtain prior to or at the early stages of negotiating might include tentative deadlines, organizational authority or status, possible alternative solutions, personal interests, motivations, bottom lines, and past negotiating history.

The initial phase of any negotiating should always involve asking questions, floating trial balloons, and presenting options for others to consider. Oftentimes, though, one side or the other will negotiate blindly by entering a room, sitting down at the table, and starting off with an opening offer or a demand. This tactic is rarely successful because it shows a lack of patience; it is less likely to be received in a positive manner.

Assuming patience has prevailed, the opening position or offer from either side becomes the single most important tactical move in any negotiation, whether bargaining or resolving conflicts. An opening offer has a direct impact on the manner in which ensuing negotiations will proceed, including how engaged the other side will be in the process and what their attitude will be toward an amenable outcome.

Of course, engineering interests must always keep their bottom line at the forefront of their strategy, in addition to knowing when to strategically deadlock. Equally important, negotiators must know their status in relation to that of the other side, as this can be a tactical advantage. A lack of status at the negotiating table is a fairly good indication that demanding behavior will backfire and result in an unnecessary deadlock. However, keep in mind, too, that the party lacking authority to close a deal at the table can occasionally be the most powerful for the simple reason that it is unpredictable and cannot be pinned down on any position.

Finally, if posturing and predisposition begin to pervade discussions, there is always one steadfast strategy remaining in an engineer’s negotiating toolkit: look and act confident in justifying all proposals with detailed metrics and insist that other parties do the same. Any refusal or hesitance on their part to comply will appear as a sign of weakness or, at the very least, lessen their opportunities for any viable counter proposals. Remember, in the end no one wants to sit at a negotiating table and appear uncomfortable for any extended period of time.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Engineer Gets Top Honor

Steven Arndt, Ph.D., P.E., a senior technical advisor for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
has been named NSPE’s 2012 Federal Engineer of the Year. Arndt received the honor during the 33rd Annual FEYA Banquet at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on February 23. This year, NSPE was honored to have Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) serve as the keynote speaker.

Sponsored by NSPE and the Professional Engineers in Government, FEYA recognizes engineers working for federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Naval Facilities Command, and the U.S. Air Force, for their dedication and exemplary service to the public.

For more information on the FEYA program, including the full press release, visit the
FEYA Web page.

You can also watch the keynote speech as well as interviews with several semifinalists and the winner addressing current topics facing the engineering profession on NSPE's YouTube channel.

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Happenings on the Hill

    1. In January, NSPE joined more than 1,000 professional, trade, and nonprofit organizations; businesses; and labor groups in sending a letter to Congress urging expedient passage of a long-term transportation reauthorization bill. The letter, part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's campaign "Make Transportation Job #1," acknowledged the funding challenges Congress faces but stressed the benefits of infrastructure investment to the U.S. economy.

    2. While the Senate has passed its two-year, $109 billion transportation bill, the House continues to wrangle over its version of the bill. With the current transportation funding extension set to expire on June 30, Congress must move quickly—but partisan rancor and election-year politics have raised doubts that Congress will be able to pass a long-term bill before November.

    3. NSPE met with Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA-8) and staff to discuss the Good Samaritan Protection for Construction, Architectural, and Engineering Volunteers Act (H.R. 1145). The bill, which Reichert introduced last year, would provide qualified immunity to engineering, architectural, and construction entities volunteering in a declared emergency. NSPE also met with senior staff for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to advocate Good Samaritan protection for professional engineers volunteering in an emergency.

    4. Rep. Dan. Lipinski (D-IL-3) sponsored a House resolution (H. Res. 552) supporting the goals and ideals of National Engineers Week. Lipinski, an engineer, has introduced a resolution in support of EWeek every year since 2006. Watch his floor speech here.

    5. NSPE cosponsored the Society of Women Engineers' "Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM" Capitol Hill Day. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made brief remarks during the legislative briefing, outlining NASA's diversity efforts and urging women to mentor each other in order to increase diversity in the engineering profession.

    6. The event also included a congressional reception, where Reps. Judy Biggert (R-IL-13), Robert Dold (R-IL-10), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30), Dan Lipinski (D-IL-3), and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX-16) and National Science Foundation Deputy Director Cora Marrett spoke about the importance of broadening participation in STEM fields.

    7. NSPE President Christopher M. Stone, P.E., F.NSPE, F.ASCE, LEED AP, was the keynote speaker at the Department of Transportation's National Engineers Day, which encourages high school students to pursue careers in engineering. Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez also spoke. As part of his presentation, Stone led students in a rousing game of Jeopardy! The interactive event also included a robotics competition and engaged students in discussion groups. Read Administrator Mendez's blog about National Engineers Day here.

    8. NSPE attended the launch of the MathAlive exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. MathAlive seeks to increase elementary and middle school students' interest in mathematics by engaging them in hands-on activities that demonstrate math's applications in video games, sports, fashion, music, robotics, and more. NSPE and MATHCOUNTS are cosponsoring the exhibit, which is presented by Raytheon.

    For more information about NSPE's advocacy work, please visit http://www.nspe.org/IssuesandAdvocacy/index.html.
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    Educate Yourself with NSPE Online Web Seminars

    NSPE has many interesting and pertinent Web seminars lined up for the remainder of the Spring line up. Check out the following webinars, and keep in mind they can be used per site, offering great value to you and your coworkers.

    Engineering Ethics: A Conversation About Expert Witness and Engineering Review Issues
    Join NSPE Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel Arthur Schwarz and a panel of engineering ethics experts for a discussion on the obligation to reimburse a payment advance, limiting the scope of an engineering review, working for a law firm client involved in litigation with a former law firm client, and a forensic study dependent upon work of engineer in dispute with a client. Polling questions and a Q&A will allow opportunities for audience interaction. 1 PDH

    April 18, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

    Historical Cases & Engineering Ethics
    Cultivating an understanding of ethics is essential for engineers as they conduct their professional lives. A different approach is to examine historical cases, which can offer a different perspective on professional responsibilities. This webinar presentation will consider several issues in engineering ethics, such as unintended consequences; professional responsibility and judgment; and concern for human health, safety and welfare, using historical cases as examples. One of the more important lessons is, as the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel noted, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.”

    April 24, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.D.T.)

    Focus on Shop Drawings: Vital Link Between Design and Construction
    This program will focus on contractual and legal issues regarding the preparation, submittal, and review of shop drawings. This course will provide in-depth discussion of:

    •     Key issues arising from shop drawing provisions in standard construction contracts;
    •     Shop drawing review practices for contractors, architects, and engineers; and
    •     Court cases examining shop drawing duties and liabilities.

    May 15, 12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

    Engineering Ethics: A Conversation About Business, Employment, and Licensure Issues
    Join NSPE Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel Arthur Schwarz and a panel of engineering ethics experts for a discussion on the signing and sealing of a subcontractor’s calculations, a Canadian firm’s noncompliance with engineering licensure laws, obtaining professional references, and an employee’s awareness of his employer’s financial improprieties. Polling questions and a Q&A will allow opportunities for audience interaction. 1 PDH

    May 16,  12:30–1:30 p.m. (E.S.T.)

    Visit the NSPE Web site to register today.

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