Coach’s Corner
CSPE Newsletter

The Chair of a large department was telling me how frustrated he was with another department Chair.  He felt as if he were always trying his best to resolve problems between their two groups, but was made to feel like it was never enough.  Sometimes, he felt as if he was being taken advantage of.  He would stay awake at night, thinking and coming up with solutions, only to have them repeatedly shot down.  He did not feel he had the energy or patience to keep trying, and was ready to give up or give in.

Negotiation is something that we do regularly, not just at work but also in our personal lives. For example, we use it in our social lives to decide a time to meet, or what movie to go see, or what to have for dinner. Negotiation is usually considered as a compromise to settle an argument or issue to benefit ourselves as much as possible.  Negotiation is not always between two people; it can involve several members from two or more parties.  The keys to negotiation are preparation, and good communication.

For physicians, negotiating can be a difficult and frustrating process.  We try to please others; yet this is not always possible.  In medicine, we are taught that there is the one solution or outcome for every clinical problem.  Yet, there are many possible outcomes in a negotiating process, and you get what you negotiate.  We are trained to be analytical thinkers and problem solve; yet when we are negotiating, we cannot come up with a solution on our own as it always impacts or involves others. The solution is, in fact, the last step in the process.  There are three prior steps that are required to achieve an effective compromise.  Conflicts always happen when we are stuck on the solution; we need to pull back and focus on the needs instead.

Step 1:  Define your needs.  Before you decide to negotiate, it helps to prepare.  Consider what you want to negotiate, the objectives, what is involved, what is valuable to you, what you are willing to give up.  Know your limits, and consider the other party’s needs.

Step 2: State your needs.  The other party needs to be approached directly, so you can state what you need clearly, and with a sense of confidence and power.   Aim as high as you can and ask for all that you want, so you have the optimal chance of gaining the best deal for yourself.

Step 3: Listen to the other party state their needs.  Now, it’s their turn to tell you what they want, so give them the attention they have just given to you.

Step 4:  Be prepared to negotiate a fair compromise, so that it is acceptable to both parties and both parties leave feeling they have won in some way.

 There are two main styles of negotiating.

  1. Win-lose:  this includes Playing Hardball, when you play tough, ask for all that you can, and do not give in return; for example, during a real estate deal.  As well, it can involve Gamesmanship, in which the process is approached as a game, with moves and strategies and tactics planned in advance, such as during a large sales negotiating process.  It can undermine trust and the sense of working as a team.  This should only be used in a situation where you do not expect to meet these people again and so do not feel the need to create a positive relationship or any good will.
  2. Win-win negotiation – this works to find a solution that both sides accept, and feel they won to a degree.  It requires honesty and openness, and is the most conducive to maintaining long-term relationships.

Preparing for the negotiations is crucial.  Many articles outline different factors one must consider when preparing for a win-win negotiation.

  • Goals: what do you want to get out of the negotiation process? What do you think the other person wants?
  • Trades: What do you and the other person have of value that you can trade? What do you each have that the other wants? What are you each comfortable giving away?
  • Alternatives: if you don’t reach agreement with the other person, what alternatives do you have? Are these good or bad? How much does it matter if you do not reach agreement? Does failure to reach an agreement cut you out of future opportunities? And what alternatives might the other person have? What is your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)?  Are you prepared to walk away?
  • Relationships: how important is this relationship? What is the history of the relationship? Could or should this history impact the negotiation? Will there be any hidden issues that may influence the negotiation? How will you handle these?
  • Expected outcomes: what outcome will people be expecting from this negotiation? What has the outcome been in the past, and what precedents have been set?
  • The consequences: what are the consequences for you of winning or losing this negotiation? What are the consequences for the other person?
  • Power: who has what power in the relationship? Who controls resources? Who stands to lose the most if agreement isn’t reached? What power does the other person have to deliver what you hope for?
  • Possible solutions: based on all of the considerations, what possible compromises might there be?

After an effective negotiation process, both parties feel positive attitudes and emotions.  This helps to maintain healthy working relationships.  Negotiation styles that can be counterproductive include manipulation, histrionics, sarcasm and disrespect, and open displays of emotion.  While this process includes emotions inherently, they need to be rational and detached.

Most conflicts can be negotiated with success, if both parties remain objective and focused on the mutual goals.  Barriers to success are often related to attitudes such as pride, stubbornness, aggressiveness; lack of trust and integrity; and passive or active resistance to change.  Dealing with these barriers requires effective communication.  Take a break, and take time to consider what occurred and the patterns of communication. Then, return to articulate this perspective in a non-confrontational way, and listen actively and acknowledge the other’s point of views.  Sometimes, it may help to change the key negotiators to regain trust and move past frustrations.  Take notes and document all progress.

John F. Kennedy stated, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” People’s positions are not usually as fundamentally opposed as they may initially appear.  You may often find that the other person wants what you are prepared to trade, and that you are prepared to give what the other person wants.  If one person has to give way, then recognize that it is fair to offer some compensation for this.  The ultimate goal is to have both sides work together, and accept and feel comfortable with the final solution.

Mamta Gautam is an Ottawa psychiatrist who specializes in treating physician patients. If you have a question you would like addressed in this column, please contact Dr. Gautam at Please include “Helping Hand” in the subject line. All inquiries will be confidential. Your questions will not be replied to, but may be selected to be answered in this column, which is intended to be educational, not therapeutic.