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Architect Soft Skills Series 4 - Negotiation

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Part four in my Architect Soft Skills Series is about negotiation. To see all of the other posts in this Series, click on the soft skills tag.


Negotiation is a key skill for architects. During the design and implementation of a solution, there will be conflicts between your point of view and the points of view of others - your client, your end users, your technical team. Being able to negotiate well means being able to view these conflicts strategically, and discuss and resolve them acceptably.

Let's view negotiation in terms of game theory. There are 3 game theories you can apply to the possible outcomes of negotiation, and how each party views their position before and after an outcome is reached - did they end up better or worse off, ultimately?

  1. Lose-lose
  2. Win-lose
  3. Win-win

These are framed in terms of a 2-party negotiation but there could be multiple parties - the theories still hold.


This is where one party views the outcome of the negotiation as positive, and the other views it as negative. This is also known as a zero-sum game - where there is a limited amount of benefit to be had, and you can only reap benefits by ensuring the other party does not. I would also call this adversarial negotiation. This mindset is "I must beat my opponent!" - a limiting view, in my opinion.

This can be a result of the other party to the negotiation holding adversarial views, even when you don't. After all, you can't actually control other people - only influence them :)

As an architect, you usually don't hold a lot of actual concrete power, so you need to use your influence wisely when negotiating. If you're working with a client or a colleague who thinks of negotiation in adversarial terms, they might become a vindictive negotiator (see Lose-lose below) if they think you "beat" them too often at this negotiation game.

It doesn't always have to end that way - but you'll have to work hard at your communication to convince, and sometimes cajole, your client/colleague into a mutually beneficial agreement (see Win-win below).


This is where both parties exit the negotiation ultimately viewing their position as worse off than it was before the negotiation began. Often this is the outcome of vindictive negotiation. This mindset is basically "If I can't have it, no one can!".

It's really difficult to negotiate with someone who is in kamikaze mode - they're willing to forgo potential benefits on their side in order to ensure that you do not get the outcome you're seeking. In this situation, you can work really hard at the negotiation, and reframing it as one where you can work together for mutually beneficial outcomes. However, once someone's in a vindictive negotiation mindset, you might not be able to recover the situation. If continuing to negotiate with this party is going to leave you worse off, it might be better to just walk away.


This is the ideal negotiating scenario. This scenario happens when both parties have embraced the idea that when you work together you can both win, you can both walk away from the negotiation better off than you started. Not only will you walk away from a win-win negotiation scenario with some, if not all, of the benefits you sought - you also walk away with a net improvement to your relationship with the other party to the negotiation. They reaped benefits too, so they'll be keen to negotiate with you again!

How do you actually negotiate?

Negotiation isn't easy and it requires practice. You need to harness all those other soft skills you've built up in your time as an architect if you want to move the negotiation towards a win-win scenario. Here are some tips that have served me well in negotiations before:


First, understand both your own, and the other party's position.

What does the other negotiating party really want? This might not be obvious - maybe there are undercurrents to their negotiating position that you need to intuit or uncover. What do you want? What are you willing to give up?

Be Authentic

I believe authenticity begets authenticity - although yes, I have worked and negotiated with shady operators before and I am sure I will again.

Here's the thing about adopting authenticity, integrity and honesty in your dealings as an architect or just as a human being - when you find yourself in situations with people who don't behave with the same level of integrity, sometimes it can get really frustrating. It feels like you're handicapping yourself. I strongly believe, though, that to compromise your integrity wounds your own spirit. People who do this might win a lot of battles but they will ultimately lose the war.

When you've ascended to the top, you've "won"... who is there with you? Did you pull people up alongside you, or did you climb over people to get there? Lacking authenticity and integrity ultimately lends itself to loneliness, which is terribly harmful to a person.

Keep Your Options Open

My final tip is to make sure you have multiple options open. If you bank all of your chances on one opportunity, you're only negotiating with one person, you put yourself in a weaker negotiation position.

Let's talk about this in terms of negotiating your salary package when you're interviewing for new contracts or jobs. If you only have one job offer on the table, you're less willing to walk away. If you have 2-3 offers on the go, that's a big confidence boost - and it'll change the way you view any individual offer, it'll even subtly change the way you're communicating with the potential employers. You know that if you aren't able to get the outcome you're seeking you can always walk away and keep negotiating the other offers.

I want to note as well, people can view salary package negotiation as inherently win-lose - and if you're only negotiating on cold hard cash then yeah, definitely that is a limited resource - if one of you gets more, the other gets less. Salary packages could include way more in the way of deferred financial reward (like stock options), non-cash benefits or perks, flexibility with work hours and locaiton, even emotional connection to a company's team or vision. Employment contracts can very much be a win-win negotiation :)


Negotiation skills are a really powerful tool in an architect's kit. It takes practice to nail negotiation and your success is dependent on all the other soft skills I've written about in this series so far - communication, understanding, and trust. Conduct your negotiations with integrity and authenticity, always. Seek outcomes that benefit both you and the person you're negotiating with, and you'll find people eager to work/negotiate with you again and again.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, or comments, please reach out to me on Twitter @heyemilyhay.