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How do you feel when you think of negotiating on behalf of yourself? Palms sweating yet…? Does the thought of a live conversation to negotiate further boost the nerves? Are you unsure how to phrase a question so you don’t sound like a needy or demanding provider? For many physicians, the answer is a resounding yes! I recognize that as physicians we are not trained to understand contracts. Just as important a skill, we are not trained to negotiate these contracts on behalf of ourselves. While there are many negotiation books, resources, and courses available, I am going to highlight here my #1 favorite book and my top 3 negotiation strategies (plus a bonus!) for you as your introductory guide to negotiating.

As physicians, we are great learners, and I want to remind you of that so you don’t shy away from learning, practicing, and one day perfecting negotiation techniques. You can do this! For starters, let’s talk resources. My personal favorite book for learning negotiation strategy is Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if your life depended on it by Chris Voss. Voss is a former FBI hostage negotiator who after 24 years as the Bureau has oh so kindly transitioned into the realm of teaching business negotiation to share his well-honed skill set with the rest of us. I love the audiobook version of this book, which is perfect for rides to and from the office, flights home for the holidays, or while out on a walk. He also has a Masterclass that gives you an even better chance to learn his body language in addition to his intonation. If you get a taste of Chris Voss and it’s just not enough, he’s also on a number of podcasts and has additional blogs online on his business website, The Black Swan Group.

To learn all of Voss’ tips and tricks, indulge yourself! If you’re just dipping your toes into the waters of negotiation, here are three tips to negotiation strategy you can begin to practice and implement in your contract and/or your day-to-day life.

What and How Questions

Your goal here is to make your counterpart (ie. your employer) think. They cannot give you a one-word answer to what and how questions. Sometimes these can be used for clarification, which is a primary goal I include under the umbrella of negotiation, and sometimes they are meant to generate a result more specific to your ask.

For example, let’s say you’re negotiating your compensation. Perhaps the offer you’ve been made is below the most current MGMA data set. What are some questions you could ask?

How is compensation set for the group?
How has this changed over time?
What metrics are used to determine compensation?
How does this compare to MGMA data?
What are your expectations of me in each year for production?

Contrast that with yes/no questions, for example:

Can I have $12,000 more?
Is my salary within fair market value?
Will my salary change if I work more?

You can imagine the positive impact of the former questions relative to the latter. For additional examples of what/how questions related to compensation, review our Compensation Q&A, which can be requested at [email protected].

Be specific

The more specific you are, the more your employer will feel you have considered your suggestion. When people feel you have thoroughly considered the problem at hand, the less leverage they may feel they have in addressing this point and the more likely they may be to concede.

For example, using the theme of compensation: let’s say you were offered a starting salary of $320,000 and based on your review of the MGMA data set and your contract review specialist, you have determined an appropriate starting salary is $380,000. Once you are ready to make a counteroffer, you could propose $383,715. This number is so specific, the administrative personnel are likely to intuit a number of very thoughtful calculations went into this suggestion and will be more likely to agree to your request, or at least a number closer to this.

Give a Reason

We read a lot of research as physicians, and I have to say this has been my favorite and most memorable study to review since I learned about it in college! At Harvard University in the late 1970’s, researcher Ellen Langer sought to better understand human behavior. She conducted “The Copy Machine Study,” in which she highlighted the power of the word because. In short, the researcher would join a line at the library copy machine, and assess the likelihood of skipping in line based on the language utilized. There were three versions to the question.

“Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
“Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”
“Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”

The third of these is my absolute favorite – it seems like it would receive an eye roll and a “no-duh” response, however it nearly tied with the second as the most efficiacious! In the first example, 60% of people complied, in the second, 94%, and my favorite number three was successful on 93% of occasions. Dr. Langer showed us just how compliant humans are when they can justify behavior and identify a reason for what they are doing. So…give a reason, give a because!

For example, when you request that $383,715 in the earlier example, add a because. You could share, “based on the metrics we reviewed regarding my anticipated productivity and 2022 MGMA data, I would expect to receive closer to the 75%ile with a small additional cost of living adjustment. I am requesting my starting salary to be $383,715”.

Bonus technique: Listen!

We need to listen to others more. It’s easy to feel so tight on time in our office day that we hear one phrase from our patients and we just start talking – educating, giving advice, making a plan. But we forget to listen – listen to their needs, to their why, to their values. When we make it a practice to listen, we often identify an entirely different motivating factor that we can utilize to better manage their concerns. When we’re negotiating our own contracts, we need to remember to practice to listen then as well. As we show interest, ask our what/how questions, and truly listen to the answers, you may find an opportunity within the employer’s language. Perhaps their starting salaries are fixed by a system-wide metric, but there is room in the bonus or the benefits, in which case you can recalculate and redirect your negotiations to areas in which you may have improved success.

Here at Contract Diagnostics, we focus on educating our providers. We want to ensure that you understand the terms of your contract and we want to help you identify the areas that need clarification or perhaps negotiation. With this clarity and understanding, we aim to help educate and empower you to negotiate on your own! We have been doing this for over 12 years, and for those of you who ultimately do not want to negotiate for yourself, we can take that off your plate as well…this is all we do! We have you covered and will negotiate on your behalf. Click here to sign up for a contract review or simply request additional information. We look forward to working with you as you generate a life-changing contract for yourself.

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