Faculty News

Building Your Negotiating Toolkit

 |  By Lisa Winston, MD
Sara Hughes, MBE., EdD, MA, BSc

Sara Hughes, MBE., EdD, MA, BSc

The AME workshop on Building Your Negotiating Toolkit was starting, and room 1406 at Mission Hall was nearly full. Our intrepid moderators Rebecca Berman, MD, and Rebecca Shunk, MD, instructed, “Raise your hand if you have confidence in your negotiating skills.” Not a single hand went up. Impressive. It is possible confidence was higher at the Parnassus and Fresno workshop sites, capably moderated by Calvin Chou and Serena Yang. Still, data suggest that many of us are distinctly uncomfortable with negotiation. I needed this workshop, and I was not alone.

Your BATNA – Always Be Prepared
The first hour introduced us to an array of concepts. Rebecca Berman asked, “Who can define BATNA?” This term sounded vaguely familiar but only vaguely. While I was googling it, Rebecca B. kindly defined the phrase as your Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement, i.e., your back up plan -- what you will do if you cannot agree with your negotiating partner. Sometimes, the stakes are low. If I cannot convince my tired resident to write shorter notes that are mercifully free of no-longer-relevant information copied from prior notes, the status quo BATNA is okay. We can muddle on, and I can marshal more convincing arguments for future negotiation. But, what if you are negotiating with your department chair, and your BATNA is leaving the institution for another position? Or, worse yet, leaving the institution for a job not yet offered? The workshop participants agreed with the moderators that an imaginary BATNA is very bad and strictly avoid having one.

There were many practical take-aways from this workshop
Yes, I took notes. While some of the guidance offered was intuitive, I realized how infrequently I follow it. For example, negotiations are likely to go better if you seek different perspectives ahead of time and come to the table prepared. Also, it may help if you set a non-threatening agenda, acknowledge that negotiations can take place over multiple sessions, and understand what elements are truly negotiable. I had not before considered the concept of focusing on principle (why you want the thing you want) as opposed to a position (what you want). In exploring options that offer mutual gain, an offer of an acceptable alternate position that satisfies the principle about which you are negotiating is possible. A reminder that negotiation is often not a zero-sum game.

So, will I face my next opportunity to negotiate with soaring confidence and unbridled optimism? No, likely not. However, I am going to save my notes from the workshop as a reminder that negotiation is a learned skill, and educators are all about learning. I’ll bet I can get better with a little practice.