The art of negotiation: The impact of psychosocial factors



Those of you who are either poker players or have watched those that play will understand the importance of having a poker face in some circumstances. Although poker typically results in a zero-sum game, the strategy and tactics in achieving an optimal outcome are quite similar to contract negotiations. Coming into the “game” prepared with a strategic approach and the ability to be observant, and having the aptitude to maintain a high level of emotional intelligence are fundamental to success. This is the third and final article on this special series titled “The Art of Negotiation.” In the first article, we looked at big picture concepts related to the negotiation of contracts in medicine (ACS Surgery News, October 2015, p. 13), and subsequently we delved the task of gathering information (November 2015, p. 9). We will end this series by looking at how we can put everything together in order to best position ourselves in reaching a win-win solution.

Joseph Sakran of SC, Editorial Advisory Board member for SN
Dr. Joseph V. Sakran

Understanding your emotional approach

One of the first things discussed early on within this series of articles is the fact that contract negotiations in medicine are far from a simple transactional deal. The relationship building in the negotiation context extends far beyond this one deal. For those new to the job market, the right job can be the culmination of dreams and ambitions years in the making. Job negotiations should not be taken lightly nor sabotaged by out-of-control emotions. You may experience a variety of emotions during a negotiation such as anxiety, anger, sadness, and excitement.

These feelings can directly affect the process, and therefore understanding how to internally deal with them can make for a smoother and potentially more beneficial end result.

Anxiety management

Anxiety is a feeling often experienced during the early stages of the negotiation process. One response to anxiety is avoidance – cut negotiations short and make a quick agreement. But avoidance can undermine some of the basic tenants of negotiation where the ability to be patient and persevere is critical. Anxious negotiators can end up making weaker offers, spending less time negotiating, and getting a less-than-optimal agreement. The ability to minimize feelings of anxiety is related to preparation and practice.

Have you ever walked into an exam feeling unprepared and wishing you had studied more or done a few more review questions? There is a clear difference in how you approach an exam you are unprepared for versus one for which you have mastered the material.

Do your homework and your anxiety will be less.

Imagine the following scenario. A colleague of mine was back for a second interview at a medical center that overall had what she was looking for, and therefore she had begun the negotiation process with the committee including the chief of the service. They began by telling her how wonderful their offer was, and even mentioned that a few other candidates were interested in taking this position if she hesitated. This technique to exert pressure on candidates is not uncommon, yet it made her anxious. As the conversation went on, her anxiety continue to build.

She was able to excuse herself for a moment and she texted me from her sanctuary, which at that time happened to be a restroom stall. “Joe, what if I don’t agree to the terms? Am I going to lose this potentially great opportunity? I should just sign the contract?” she said. I was able to remind her of a few things. First, I told her, you are at the table for a reason, which primarily has to do with the fact that you may provide value to the organization. Second, I asked her if she knew what were they looking for. It is critical to understand what the institution considers important since it will allow you to leverage your skill set. If the answer is not clear, then ask questions to help illustrate what they value to help advance their objectives.

Once you have determined what they value most, you can negotiate with greater confidence.

Finally, you should never sign a contract without taking time to really review it. If a potential employer is not willing to give you that time then it should be a red flag that something is not right!

Anger management

Anger is another emotion that, unlike anxiety, can result in an increase in intensity of the negotiation. While certain aspects of this might seem appealing and even at times beneficial, in general, anger impairs the overall process, results in a higher likelihood of an impasse, and potentially damages the long-term relationship. In fact, even if a deal is ultimately agreed upon, trust among the parties is reduced, making for a potentially difficult working relationship in the future. It is wise to make every effort to minimize aggression during the discussion and ensure the other team understands your goal of reaching a win-win solution. Remember that even in the best circumstances, these complex negotiations usually result in a combination of elements gained and lost. The most skilled negotiators will leave the table confident that they achieved a great deal, while making sure that the other party also feels good about the agreement.

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