Session 03: The Art of Negotiation

Date: December 6, 2019
Location: Perkins Eastman –One Thomas Circle NW, Suite 200, Washington DC 20005
Led by: Tom Zych, AIA and Valerie Boudreaux, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP

Downloads: Session 3 PDF

Upon hearing the word ‘negotiation’ in the context of the architectural profession, one may initially think of contracts. This is certainly a fundamental aspect of the business of architecture that drives relationships and agreements; however, through various activities and discussions, scholars soon realized that the term negotiation encompasses more. As architects, we employ persuasion, empathy, and ethics, to not only form agreements, but also to align stakeholders around a collective vision, to effectively communicate complex ideas, and to advocate on behalf of ourselves or others.


Kurt Robbins from Graceworks, led the scholars through a dynamic workshop he likes to call, “any time you open your mouth training”. These face-to-face interactions, whether speaking at a conference, presenting to a client, or networking, hinge on human connection. The first step to being contagious is to trust yourself and be vulnerable, but ultimately, the presenter’s task is to “help your listener get your message”. Every interaction is not about you, it’s about them.The scholars engaged in a series of exercises to practice essential communication skills such as authentic introductions and handshakes, the craft of listening while you speak, a physical warm-up, body language, and visualizing concepts through a combination of purposeful gestures and thoughtfully edited graphics. Captivating an audience of any size or disposition is not merely the execution of a flawless performance; it involves both verbal and non-verbal discernment to deliver a powerful, visceral experience. Mr. Robbins adeptly demonstrated this balancing act while facilitating the workshop, proving that communicating doesn’t have to be stressful, and in fact, it can be energizing and fun!


In a change of pace, Jeffrey Morris, AIA, a managing principal of WDG Architecture’s DC office, gave a refresher on contract negotiation fundamentals, while also providing insights gained throughout his career. Using a sample contract, heexplained how almost every section of an AIA contract is revised and how each unique contract serves as a roadmap and costing mechanism to transition from one phase to the next for the project team. Mr. Morris shared advice for establishing fees, schedules, and being very specific in outlining scope of work and additional services. He cautioned against incorporating words such as comply, guarantee, will, must, etc. that imply a promise or ultimatum to reduce liability. It is in everyone’s best interest to not go to court, and once again, the human connection comes into play, as it is key to sincerely understand the owner’s and other stakeholders’ concerns and expectations.


Every negotiation involves multiples perspectives and the final panel, including Jessica Bloomfield, an attorney at Holland & Knight, Brett Swiatocha and Mary Rankin, architects at Perkins Eastman, and Janice Szymanski, Director for Facility Planning and Design at DC Public Schools, talked about projects they have partnered on and delved into how to navigate the often times arduous process. The panelists described the hallmarks of a successful negotiation as moving the project forward in a positive way through compromise and representation of all voices. The interests ofdistrict agencies and the community don’t always align, and as a result, educating/mentoring, listening, and advocating are essential to arrive at solutions that best meet everyone’s needs. Being transparent and not jumping to conclusions will help to overcome conflict and rally around a mutual end goal. Not surprisingly, the human connection was stated as critical to understand what is at stake for each individual, especially during a process that is messy and complicated. 

A familiar quote by Maya Angelou was referenced not once, but twice, during the session: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This sentiment eloquently sums up the common thread of human connection. Coming to a consensus takes more than rationale or logic. There is always a dimension of humanity and emotion tied to decisions and actions. Despite whether one agrees with the outcome of a negotiation, treating others with compassion and dignity is the mark of an exceptional leader. Scholars learned that approaching negotiation, not by thinking about what is in it for them, but rather by willingly considering what the other parties involved hope to gain, will lead to establishing trust and bring far greater value.