Most content that centers around communication and conflict resolution has to do with assessing your feelings, your body language, your decision-making process, your attitudes, and your behaviors. Not that these are bad recommendations, but they fall short of what makes the biggest impact when resolving conflict and negotiating. Where most advice falls short is that the advice focuses on YOU, YOUR feelings, YOUR body language, YOUR decision-making, YOUR attitude, YOUR behaviors.
Many of you have heard the saying, “God gave you one mouth and two ears. He intended for you to listen twice as much as you speak.” Ears are the gateways to receiving critical information about your environment. Ears collect sound waves. During conflict or negotiation, ears are data gathering reservoirs collecting what is coming out of the other person’s mouth. Ears are your strongest weapons in resolving conflict and negotiating a solution.
To be fair, your ears are only the front end of a process that leads to great conflict resolution and negotiation. But if you cannot get the front end of that process right, nothing else in that process will work. Therefore, ears are where you begin.
When you focus on opening your ears, closing your mouth, and focusing on the other person, several key dynamics are put in motion.
"Use your ears to negotiate a resolution!"
Let us consider a real-world example.
You are in discussion with a material vendor who is angry with the contractor on your job. The vendor says in a very agitated tone, “The contractor is impossible!” Your ears have informed you the vendor is in conflict with the contractor and is angry. So you say, “What do you mean when you say the contractor is impossible?”
PAUSE – To make your ears work better, you sometimes need to ask CLARIFYING questions. You want the vendor to clarify what he means by the term, “impossible.”
The vendor responds, “He rejected some of our material and it’s going to cost us more money than is budgeted for the job. We are going to lose money.”
Now you understand impossible means the contractor’s decision to reject the vendor’s material is costing them money. So you ask the vendor, “Tell me what happened. Walk me through the story step by step.” Again, you are only opening your mouth to request more DETAIL for your ears to receive.
The vendor proceeds to explain, in detail, that they delivered the ordered materials to the job site only to have the contractor stop them from unloading and reject the materials. The contractor claims the materials do not meet the specifications of the design. The vendor showed the order slip signed by the contractor’s foreman, but to no avail. The contractor begins yelling and cussing demanding the material be loaded and returned.
Without belaboring the example, we now have DETAILS AND CONTEXT from which to work toward resolution and negotiation. The same process is required once you speak with the contractor. You do not assume, but give the contractor the benefit of telling his story with his details. It is only at this point you may be able to proceed with negotiating a solution to this conflict.
Opening your ears means;
Use your ears to negotiate a resolution!
This blog was originally published at The Engineering Management Institute
Your Ears Are Your Strongest Resolution and Negotiation Weapons (engineeringmanagementinstitute.org)
Project Data - Static and Dynamic
Project data is a marketer’s arsenal for better marketing, customer engagement and business development. What do I mean by project data? Project data includes the components of a project or its size. These include how many linear feet of gravity sewer line were installed, how many tons of asphalt were laid or how many miles of 110kv line were designed. This project data is static and tells a portion of the project story. The static project data gives the client a sense of the size and maybe complexity of a given project. But what most engineering firms miss in marketing is the dynamic data.
Dynamic project data goes beyond the components which describe size or complexity. Project data such as the difference between an engineer’s estimate of construction cost, the construction bid and the final construction cost tells a dynamic story about cost estimating accuracy, budget alignment and design plan accuracy. Or, for example, how aware was the owner of project design milestones? Was the owner able to know exactly where the design team was on construction plan development and if this was ahead, on, or behind schedule? What was the story of owner communication? The ability to showcase results as they happen, rather than after they happen can differentiate a project team in real time.
So how do we capture, understand, communicate, and highlight dynamic project data? Here’s an example. One of my firm’s Principals forwarded an email to me from a Utility Director at a client company. We are currently performing a design for water system expansion. Part of our responsibility was to obtain approval from Missouri State Historical Preservation Office regarding an easement across Missouri Department of Conservation property. We produced approval quickly and received this response from the Utility Director, “Wow! You guys are efficient plus 10.” I attached this email and quote to our Client Relationship Management (CRM) system record for that client and specific contact for future reference. Now, we have a brief story to tell that demonstrates our efficiency in permitting, working with multiple Missouri agencies, and keeping projects on schedule.
The key to capturing, understanding, communicating, and highlighting dynamic project data is to share your data with marketing. Meaningful correspondence with clients, project innovations that save time and/or money, process efficiencies, use of technology that saves time and/or money, etc. are all good dynamic project data! All you must do is share it. :)
Responsiveness! The Secret Sauce
I remember when my father instituted a policy for every Project Manager (PM) to help them be more responsive to clients. He asked every PM to write a monthly letter to every active client. The letter was to explain where they were in the project schedule, how much budget had been spent and how much was left (if applicable), and what the client could expect from them in the next month. It was a simple status report.
Several months into this new policy, one Project Manager replied, during our monthly PM meeting, that he had not written to two of his clients because nothing had been done on their project for that month. There was nothing to report. In a very calm but direct manner, my dad paused the meeting and explained why we were writing the letters. Even if nothing was completed for the month, it was vitally important that the client know there was nothing completed, and more importantly, why.
I tell this story because it points out a secret marketing power you have as a Project Manager. The power is responsive communication with your clients. Keeping your clients well-informed does several things.
If you would like your clients to feel important, in control and smart, then keep them informed and stay ahead of the responsiveness curve. How smart do you look when you answer their questions before they even ask them?
Gabe Lett, FSMPS, CPSM, LPC