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HUMAN NETWORK: Embracing the Role of the Provocateur

March 1, 2018
As I reunite with friends and family from across the country this holiday season, I am spending a lot of time thinking about my father, who passed recently. My father […]

As I reunite with friends and family from across the country this holiday season, I am spending a lot of time thinking about my father, who passed recently. My father frequently challenged me and others around him to think differently. At times, this drove me absolutely nuts. However, this quality of his ultimately allowed me to experience tremendous personal growth and freedom.

From my father, I’ve learned that it isn’t the people you get along with easily who teach you the most — it is the ones who challenge you.

Sometimes I could tell that he knew he was doing this, but many times it was just who he was. He liked to have lively debates on a wide variety of topics. I enjoyed this level of exchange with him — most of the time. (I’m not so sure, though, if others around us enjoyed it all that much.)

In this month’s Know How Network, we consider the value of being argumentative— a provocateur — for negotiating in Project Management.

Being argumentative gets a bad reputation. When we think of people who argue frequently, we imagine people who are stubborn, inflexible in their positions, and unwilling to take others’ perspectives seriously. While argumentative people can sometimes be these things, being argumentative can be a useful negotiation skill if channeled appropriately.

We’ve identified 3 key ways that embracing an argumentative stance can help improve your negotiation skills.

1. Argumentative people are good at communicating their ideas and needs. They have clear ideas about what they want out of the negotiation, and are able to articulate this in ways that make sense to different audiences. Whereas some negotiators may be unclear on or unable to express their needs and wants, argumentative people know what they want out of a negotiation and are generally confident about which outcomes are and are not acceptable to them.

2. Through challenging others’ ideas, argumentative people help all parties involved in the negotiation think through their positions and ideas logically, and consider the rationality of multiple points of view. Negotiators who focus on coming to consensus easily and are quick to accommodate others may not think seriously about the logic of their negotiating outcomes. By being willing to challenge others and embrace temporary discomfort, argumentative negotiators are well-suited to helping craft a solution that creates value for all negotiating parties.

3. Third, argumentative people can serve as skilled negotiators because it is in their nature to bring all contentious issues to the fore of the conversation, rather than avoid topics that may bring up conflict between the negotiating parties. Avoiding issues can lead to bigger problems down the line; argumentative people help prevent this by bringing up conflicts or potential conflicts early on in the negotiations process, leading ultimately to a more successful outcome for all parties.

It was fascinating to watch my father be the provocateur with others who didn’t quite grasp what it was he was doing. They thought he was stubborn. He did not play fools well. If there wasn’t a valid reason for someone’s behavior other than authoritarian rule, he would challenge their authority. He went to court to fight more traffic tickets than anyone I have ever known.

I very much appreciate these lessons from my father, as they’ve given me the guts to stick up to change things that I feel need to be changed. This is part of what motivated me to write a book and design a course on negotiations. In these, I created a negotiations process that removes the "games" and helps all parties work better together to create more value for everyone.

Visit my website and use the promotion code questionauthority to learn about the 20-hour online Cheetah Negotiations class.

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, RYT, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun, and fast She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management (PM) to the masses. Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 50,000 people have become "Cheetahs" using Cheetah Learning’s innovative PM and accelerated learning techniques. Michelle also developed the Cheetah Certified Project Manager (CCPM) program based on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality profiling to help students master how to use their unique strengths for learning, doing projects, and negotiating. Michelle is recognized by the Project Management Institute as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world. For more information, visit To read my business-oriented blogs, please visit Cheetah Learning Blog at,, and read my columns here in ISE magazine at