Negotiation skills were not an attribute that was at the top of the list for government agencies in years past.
As long as you stuck to the purchasing policies, procedures and bylaws you were on solid footing. As time progresses and government projects evolve, negotiation has become a skill that should be well developed in purchasing managers. Until recently, people could acquire negotiation skills only through experience.
With the evolution of skills training in universities and professional schools, and the consequent adoption of a more scientific approach to the subject, it is now possible to provide formal training in negotiation methods to make people more effective negotiators.
It is not reasonable to detail all aspects of negotiation theory in a 630 word article. However, it may be posable to touch on the essentials and relate it to the practical working needs of a typical purchasing manager or buyer.
Negotiation theory covers the following subjects: the various negotiation techniques and styles; the advantages and disadvantages of each style; when they should be used; and assessing settlement offers.
For a government procurement manager, this process needs to take into account a range of psychological, economic, ethical and legal considerations.
It is often said that a lack of preparation will almost always lead to delay. Specifically in government procurement, a mistaken assumption can lead to a misinterpretation of the facts and the wrong conclusion. It is much easier when negotiating government contract change orders that they don't involve confrontation.
Dispute resolution is a subject of considerable study at post-secondary institutes around the world. One mid-sized Canadian university for instance offers no less than 16 separate units (through its departments of history, business, political science and philosophy) on this subject.
What I found interesting was the fact that many writers dealing with global conflict attributed the limited success of negotiation in solving conflict to culture and analogous differences from one society to another.
As construction becomes a more global enterprise, the skill level of government bodies needs to improve.
These writings have obvious implications in the growing extent of international trade and with the steady growth of international product sourcing, such trade is becoming increasingly relevant in public procurement — even at the municipal level.
There is no doubt that different cultures, belief systems, languages, business practices and social norms make dispute more likely at the international level than is likely to be the case within a fairly homogeneous society.
Even so, most disputes arise simply from either arguments over money or due to one person or organization treating others badly. Until that happy and unlikely day on which all people are as wealthy as they would like to be, little can be done concerning disputes over money, but it is possible to avoid the many disputes that arise from human conduct. The type of behaviour that leads to conflict at the international level will often be exactly the same behaviour that will lead to conflict at the national level.
Most people who deal at the international level are sufficiently sophisticated and tolerant enough to understand the values, beliefs and customs are likely to vary from one part of the world to another.
The most effective way of avoiding disputes is simply not to do the type of thing that is likely to lead to a dispute. Moreover, the easiest way to resolve a dispute once it has begun is to discontinue the behaviour that led to the dispute in the first place. Needless to say the more training government managers can obtain the better the outcome.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at email@example.com.
Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.