Interaction skills (sometimes referred to as “office politics”) are one of the many soft skills employers consider to be important qualities of a Business Analyst. The Business Analyst Body of Knowledge (BABOK) divides interaction skills into three broad areas: facilitation and negotiation, leadership and influencing, and teamwork.
It’s critical that BAs possess these skills so they can navigate politics in order to build consensus on a project, and to mitigate conflicts. The point of these skills isn’t so much to advocate for any one agenda, but to help all stakeholders articulate their needs and understand and embrace the goals of the project.
Now, the notion of addressing office politics may seem petty to some BAs, who are more focused on research and analysis than politics. However, every workplace has differing agendas among its members, and unless you can handle them, you can lose quite a lot. Interaction skills can also help prevent or mitigate conflict to avoid needless delays in a project.
So how shall Business Analysts incorporate office interaction skills into their work? Here are some concrete ideas to help you gather and present requirements and project needs to people with differing personalities and agendas:
- Keep meetings and impromptu discussions on-topic and concise. Don’t let them veer off into other areas.
- When stakeholders have different agendas for a project, ask them to prioritize their needs. Get them together in a one-off meeting and create an actual priority list.
- Help stakeholders clarify their actual concerns about a project and start solutioning. This is where the skill of unearthing a project’s actual requirements, as opposed to what people assume them to be, comes in handy.
- Advance points of agreement to help build consensus. Focus on what stakeholders mutually want (repeat, “mutually want”).
- Stay positive even when people complain. Just empathize and say something like “I hear you, John.”
- Stay completely unflappable when people are upset.
- Don’t ever take sides and don’t advocate for one manager’s agenda against another. (Unless you want to see your career tank.) Always keep things positive.
- Keep any and all of your opinions of people to yourself. The moment you share them, you’ll start to lose your influence as a neutral negotiator and will be viewed as biased by other project participants.