As a project manager, you conduct or participate in many meetings. At these meetings, facts are exchanged, decisions are made or only information is provided. Information flows that might be important to you at a later point in time. I therefore recommend that you always write down important points at meetings and, if it makes sense, have them confirmed by the other party. Why? Read on and you will find out!
Meetings Are the Daily Life of the Project Manager
As a project manager, you conduct or attend many meetings. How many hours per week is it for you? You hear and read again and again that there are too many meetings, so you should consider which ones are really useful and who are the appropriate participants for them. However, meetings are very important in everyday project work!
Meetings can take place physically, by phone or via video conference. They can be planned well in advance or take place very spontaneously. At meetings, facts are exchanged, decisions are made, or only information is provided. There is always an exchange of information. Information flows that might be important to you at a later point in time. I therefore recommend that you always write down important information at meetings and, if it makes sense, have it confirmed by the other party, a negotiating partner or supplier.
Meetings can have the following purpose:
- To exchange, inform, or discuss a specific subject with team members or other parties with the goal of making decisions.
- To negotiate with suppliers and agree on specific content.
- One-to-one meetings with the project sponsor, team members, etc.
Each meeting generates information that may need to be processed as the project progresses, that may help you make decisions, or that may otherwise be important to you at a later date. To ensure that this information is not forgotten, you should write it down. This may seem trivial or excessive to you- but this can have great significance. In the next sections you will learn more about why.
Write It Down
Here’s something basic first: When you call a meeting, you should have an agenda and know what you wanted to accomplish with the meeting. What do you want the outcome to be? If you are invited to a meeting and there is no agenda, then ask for one. Then see if it makes sense to attend that meeting at all, or if your valuable time would be better spent elsewhere. You can also send one of your team members to the meeting and then report back.
Those Who Write Lead
You are probably confronted with too much written communication on a daily basis. However, there are moments when you should reach for the pen or keyboard yourself. My advice to you is that whatever you write and distribute should be written as if it will later be read out in court.
After you’ve finished an important telephone conversation, carefully draft the written representation of the negotiated understanding. While still on the phone, inform the other person that you will do this. You should also draft such a record after any important verbal “face-to-face” agreement.
Experience has shown that a gentleman’s agreement (arrangement without a formal contract) can become very awkward. As Sam Goldwyn is reported to have said, “A verbal agreement is not worth the paper it is written on.”
An agreement that you put in writing and send to your contractor, supplier, etc. might read something like this:
“Pursuant to our conversation on [date], we have agreed to the following ….”. “As per our telephone conversation, we have come to the conclusion that …”. “In reference to the matter of …”. The format is usually not important. What matters is that you draft the letter. Why should you take on this burden? Because the benefits to you are huge. What are the advantages of the writer?
The Advantages of the Writer
- You have the initiative, determining when the memo will be written, the form it will take, and when it will be sent. Nothing will happen until you make it happen!
- The agreement will be drafted in your terms. If there’s any questions about interpretation, the person who drafted the document is always asked.
Let’s shift the focus from a phone transaction to a face-to-face transaction. I am your negotiating partner sitting across from you at a rectangular conference table. The negotiation sessions go on and on, day after day. Do you take notes? No. Like many top managers, you mistakenly believe you have a photographic memory. Do I take notes? You can be sure of that. Why do I take notes? Because it may give me leverage and power over you.
After the third day, you ask me irritably during a break: “Why are you taking so many notes? You’re not a court reporter! We’ve already discussed these aspects of the proposed contract through and through!” I smile, shrug my shoulders, and mumble something about not being able to remember anything without putting it down on paper.
You can be sure, your contract partner will not remember certain aspects after a certain time and will ask you:” What did we agree on yesterday regarding the point “faster server”?
I flip through my notes while you impatiently tap your foot. “Here it is … the new servers will be set up on Monday, 7/23/2021 at 2:00 PM”. ” Suddenly, I regard you with awe. I have now considerable power.
C. You will listen better. If you know up front that you are going to write the Memo of Agreement, you will listen better and take better notes. You will even be more attentive and discipline yourself.
D. You define your leeway. Your first draft will provide a framework for possible future revisions. It will establish definitions and set the boundaries for discussion. Here’s an example. Let’s say you and I enter into a telephone transaction. You agree to let me write the summary or our agreement.
Here’s an example. Suppose you and wrap up a telephone transaction. You agree to let me write the letter of intent without realizing the implications of your gesture. I write the memo and send you a copy. Two days later, you call me and say, “Hey, wait a minute! I received your letter, and you left out Item A.”
“Item A?” I reply innocently. “Yes,” you continue. ” Do you remember A?” I act slightly puzzled. “Oh … Item A. I seem to remember you mentioning it briefly.” You persist, “And why didn’t you include it?” I reply, “I didn’t think it was that important. After all, you barely mentioned it.” You clear your throat. “I barely mentioned it because you seemed okay with it.” I pause for a moment, as though you’re imposing on me—as though you’re asking for too much.
Why am I making life so difficult for you regarding A? Assuming that I am a cooperative negotiator, how could A be left out? There is always a certain selectivity in producing any writing. Otherwise, the agreement would be the size of an entire book. But when I write the agreement, any selectivity is at your expense. The points that are somehow important to me are included. But it’s hard for me to read your mind. Remember that during the negotiation, you barely talked about A. Ultimately, I will give you point A. However, please note that I have made a concession to you on this point and now expect something in return. Also, after such a difficult time with A, you may be hesitant to ask for point B, which I also left out of the draft. Your attitude now is, “Gee, I’m not going through that hassle again!” And so, the power of the writer prevails again.
E. The other party is grateful to you. Because you’ve bothered to do the writing, the other party is appreciative. They don’t tend to be petty or quibble over little things. Even if your text has some minor imperfections, most people will be magnanimous and not engage in hair-splitting.
In conclusion, let me summarize this article with a concise remark from Ellen Eisenstadt. When her boss gave her a pat on the shoulder and promised her vague prospects for the future, she remarked: “The pen is mightier than a pat on the shoulder and a promise”.
How right Ellen Eisenstadt is! Years ago, I remembered this saying from a Claims Management seminar: “What has not been written down does not exist.” Second point: Always have important agreements confirmed in writing by the other party.
I hope I was able to sensitize you to the subject of writing, because I have noticed that this has been lost more and more in recent years.
This article was animated by a chapter from the excellent book by: Cohen, Herb. You Can Negotiate Anything: The Groundbreaking Original Guide to Negotiation.