Issues to Negotiate in Contracts Seen in Practice

When you’re offered a job at a veterinary practice, it’s important to get as much information as possible about the specifics. You’ll typically be offered a certain wage, often along with benefits such as health insurance, retirement benefits, vacation time and the like. But the offer may not mention workplace flexibility and other perks that can have a significant impact on your job – and so it’s crucial to negotiate all of the key elements of the offer.

Many people feel uncomfortable when negotiating a work package, but gaining the ability to negotiate well help you to be more successful at work long after you’ve begun a particular job. As a part of a veterinary practice team, you may need to negotiate with vendors, and with challenging clients – and almost certainly there will be times that you need to negotiate with your employer about a raise, a revised benefits package, and evolving workplace perks and policies.

When you negotiate fair compensation for yourself, you will become more committed to the practice, which translates into better care for the practice’s clients and their pets. As an employer, when you negotiate fairly with employees, you will help to build loyalty that will stabilize and strengthen your practice.

What Negotiations Are & Why They’re Needed

A negotiation is a process in which two or more parties attempt to resolve differing needs and interests through a series of communications. An employer, for example, may want to offer someone higher wages, but needs to consider the overall profitability of a practice. Meanwhile, an employee may understand and support the need for a thriving practice, but also needs to earn a certain wage to support his or her family.

Employers and employees negotiate because they each have what the other one needs, and they believe they can obtain a better outcome through the process than if they simply accept what the other party is offering. Sometimes, negotiations occur because the status quo is no longer acceptable for one or both parties.

Negotiations take finesse because, besides dealing with specific tangible points (wages, insurance benefits and workplace perks, as just three examples), emotions play a part and ongoing relationships are involved. The parties are choosing to try to resolve their different positions through discussions, rather than arguing, ending the relationship, having one person dominate the relationship or taking the dispute to another party with more authority.

Negotiation Terminology

Using the example of wages, employers and employee alike have a target point, which are the wages they would like the other party to agree to. The difference between what an employee wants to be paid and the employer wants to pay is the bargaining range. Meanwhile, the resistance point is where a party would walk away from negotiations; if too low of a wage or raise is proposed, an employee may begin job searching or a job candidate may decline an offer; the employer also has a point at which he or she will reject a wage request and end negotiations.

When the buyer (employer) has a resistance point that’s above the seller’s (employee), this situation has a positive bargaining range. The employer, in this case, is willing to pay more than the employee’s minimum requirements, so this situation has a good chance of being satisfactorily resolved. With a negative bargaining range, though, one or both of the parties must change their resistance point(s) for there to be a possibility of resolution.

In a wage negotiation scenario, either the employer will offer a starting wage or raise, or an employee or job candidate will request a certain dollar amount; the first person to name a dollar amount is making the opening offer. If at least one of the parties has a BATNA – best alternative to negotiation agreements – then he or she will probably approach the discussions with more confidence, having another alternative. So, if an employer offers someone a job, but has another excellent candidate waiting in the wings, the employer has another alternative and can set a higher and/or firmer resistance point. Conversely, if an employee or job candidate has a unique set of skills that are needed in today’s practices, that person probably has more options in the job market – perhaps even other pending offers. The quality of a negotiator’s alternatives drives his or her value by providing the power to walk away and/or set a higher and/or firmer resistance point.

Bargaining Styles

There is more than one type of bargaining style. One way to differentiate them is to divide them into distributive bargaining and integrative bargaining.

In distributive bargaining, parties’ needs and desires are in direct conflict with one another’s, with each party wanting a bigger piece of a fixed tangible such as money or time, so these negotiations are typically competitive. Parties are not concerned with a future relationship with the other person. A slang term for this type of negotiation is “playing hardball” or “one upping” someone. Strategies often include making extreme offers, such as an employer offering a very low wage or a job candidate asking for an exceptionally high one. Tactics include trying to persuade the other party to reconsider his or her resistance point because of the value being offered – in this example, the job candidate might say that a high salary was required because of his or her abilities or an employer could say that lower wages would be compensated by a great work environment.

With integrative bargaining, though, the goal is win-win collaborations that will provide a good opportunity for both parties. The employer would acknowledge the employee’s value and need for a decent wage, and negotiate accordingly, while the employee or job candidate would recognize the value of working at a particular practice as well as the fact that the employer has numerous other financial commitments to fulfill.  They recognize that they need one another to maximize their respective opportunities and negotiate from a place of trust and integrity, with a positive outlook that recognizes and validates the other party’s interest in the transaction.

Here’s an interesting psychological truth. Negotiators are more satisfied with final outcomes if there is a series of concessions rather than if their first offer is accepted, because they feel they could have done better.

Negotiation Styles

To successfully negotiate, it’s crucial to clearly define the issues involved, and to prepare for the negotiations. Each party should be clear about his or her target point, opening offer, resistance point and BATNAs.

Multiple negotiation styles exist, each on the spectrum of assertiveness and cooperativeness. Here are summaries of common styles:

Competing (high in assertiveness, low in cooperativeness): these negotiators are self-confident and assertive, focusing on results and the bottom line; they tend to impose their views on others

Avoiding (low in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators are passive and avoid conflict whenever possible; they try to remove themselves from negotiations or pass the responsibility to someone else without an honest attempt to resolve the situation

Collaborating (high in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators use open and honest communication, searching for creative solutions that work well for both parties, even if the solution is new; this negotiator often offers multiple recommendations for the other party to consider.

Accommodating (low in assertiveness, high in cooperativeness): these negotiators focus on downplaying conflicts and smoothing over differences to maintain relationships; they are most concerned with satisfying the other party

Compromising (moderate in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators search for common ground and are willing to meet the other party in the middle; they are usually willing to give and take and find moderate satisfaction acceptable.

As long as both parties are committed to the business relationship and believe there is value in coming to an agreement, negotiations can typically proceed.  If one or both parties, though, are unreasonable, uninformed or stubborn – or listening to advisors with those characteristics – negotiations can fall through. Other challenges exist when one party doesn’t necessarily need the deal, isn’t in a hurry or knows that the other party is without other options and/or in a time crunch.

Negotiation Fears

You may dread negotiation. If so, you’re not alone. There are many reasons for not wanting to negotiate, but some common reasons include the following:

You have not yet solidified your position: in this case, more preparation is clearly needed.

Fear of looking stupid: nobody likes looking foolish, so some people will avoid negotiations altogether rather than taking the risk of not negotiating well.

Liking people and wanting to make them happy (but perhaps not being able to give them what they want)/not wanting to affect someone else in a negative way: if you are interviewing for a promotion at a practice, and you really like the practice manager, you may worry that negotiations will upset the manager or put her in a difficult position.

Fear of failure: some people would prefer to not negotiate at all, rather than making an unsuccessful attempt.

Feeling uncomfortable with money: some people were taught that it wasn’t polite to talk about money.

Other people have an aversion to conflict, overall, and so they miss out on the potential of it by not negotiating, in order to avoid feeling vulnerable.

Women in particular are reluctant to negotiate, with only 7 percent doing so. They suffer the costs associated with not negotiating because they tend to have lower expectations, fear being considered a “bitch” and can be penalized for negotiating. As a solution, women can consider framing their wants into the value that they will bring to the other party, and share how they can solve the underlying problem of the other party.

Areas where negotiating may not feel as intimidating include:

  • Negotiations for resources, whether it’s asking for more equipment or for a practice to hire more people
  • Negotiations about how to use resources; with a common purpose, solutions can be reverse engineered fairly easily
  • Negotiations where you have expertise
  • Negotiations with big companies where nothing is personal
  • Negotiations where you have evidence to support your position, including facts, data and logical reasoning

Salary and Benefits Negotiation Tips

Even though the examples given so far have focused on monetary compensation, when negotiating, don’t focus solely on wage or salary. Also discuss benefits offered and workplace perks – meaning the entire package. This can include, but is not limited to, health care coverage, life insurance, retirement programs, vacation time and flextime. If you’re job hunting, investigate what companies are offering. Where do you think the place you’re interviewing falls on that spectrum? What is the minimum pay level that you’re willing to accept? What is your preferred wage? What benefits are important to you?

If you want to work at a particular practice, but the pay rate isn’t quite what you want, ask if you can have a salary review in, say, six months. This doesn’t mean accepting a salary that is clearly sub-par, nor does it mean that you should try to put more pressure on a potential employer who is already offering you a good deal. It is simply something to consider in relevant circumstances.

What workplace perks might be desired? Would a company cell phone help you? Better equipment or software? If so, you could consider accepting somewhat lower pay if you get more tools to do your job.

Although telecommuting is seldom an option for veterinary staff, outside of perhaps financial or other purely admin functions, you could negotiate coming in half an hour later so that you can take your children to school or schedule a lunch break that coincides with when you need to pick them up. If you bring crucial skills to the negotiating table, you’re more likely to get these concessions than if you are entry-level.

If relevant, ask about practice policy if you become pregnant. How acceptable is the policy to you? How important of a negotiating point is this for you? What about if you are injured in the workplace? Educate yourself on your workplace rights before negotiations occur, as well as company policy. If you are valuable to the practice, perhaps you can negotiate some additional flexibility.

Who should be the first to make an offer? Some experts believe that, if you allow the other party to provide a starting dollar figure, he or she has shown his or her hand. But, research indicates that final figures tend to be closer to the original number stated than what the other party had originally hoped.

What NOT to Do

Beware of “between”! It probably feels reasonable to ask for a certain salary range – or range for a raise. But if you do that with a current or prospective employer, you have basically tipped your hand as far as how low you would go. Using the word “between” is actually a concession!

Another risky term: “I think we’re close.” A savvy negotiator will recognize “deal fatigue” on your end and perhaps stall in the hopes that you’ll concede, just to complete the deal.

Negotiating with Brokers

If you’re buying or selling a veterinary practice, then your negotiating skills will likely come in handy. For example, let’s say you’re selling a practice. In your listing agreement contract, you’ll typically need to agree to a period of time wherein the broker has exclusive rights to sell, perhaps six months or a year. If you’re not satisfied, can you terminate the agreement? It depends! It depends upon how well you negotiated the original contract with the agent. You may, for example, negotiate a clause stating that you can terminate the listing immediately for good cause or with a short period of prior notification if the termination is without cause. In exchange for that clause being included, perhaps you’ll agree to reimburse expenses incurred by the agent during the listing period and/or pay commission if the buyer is one that the agent initially identified.

Negotiating Lab Contracts

You’ll probably also need to negotiate contracts with labs that provide diagnostic services for your practice. You can work on a pay-as-you-go arrangement, sending work to different labs, as needed. The flaw is that you won’t get the financial incentives offered to practices who sign contracts. By signing a contract, you can negotiate lower fees or better rate schedules. When you pay less in lab fees, you could decide to offer lower rates to your customers, which will probably make more of them agree to pay for diagnostic testing in the first place. If you sign a multi-year contract with a lab, you may also be able to lease in-house lab equipment as part of the deal.

For Best Results

People tend to feel more confident during negotiations when it focuses on an area of their expertise and/or where solid evidence exists to back up the negotiations. Overall, success is achieved when you first:

  • Determine the interests of the other party
  • Embrace compromise
  • Observe the Golden Rule, treating others as you would like to be treated: fairly and reasonably, without defensiveness
  • Be prepared, both in factual information and in strategy

Know what’s most important to you, run the figures, and negotiate for what you want!

 

Auditing Your Company’s Mission Statement

Although no two mission statements are alike (nor should they be), it’s important to regularly audit yours—perhaps when you do your annual policy review, overall—to determine whether or not the statement is still relevant and actually being put into practice. Here is a helpful checklist.

  • Is your mission statement still relevant? If not, why not? What needs changed?
    • Is your purpose still the same?
    • What about your core values?
    • Do you offer different products and/or services, ones that have caused your mission statement to need to evolve?
    • What makes your business unique? Is that clearly indicated?
  • Can your entire team recite your mission statement?
  • When you ask each member of the team (or, if at a large company, a sample of them) what the mission statement means, how consistent are the answers?
    • How closely do they match what key staff believe the statement to mean?
    • If there are gaps, where do they exist? How significant are they?
    • In your policy manual, have you included concrete examples of how the mission statement could be put into practice? If not, would that be helpful?
  • How do you explicitly communicate your mission statement to your customers or clients?
    • Through signs that state it?
    • In your website and printed materials?
    • In your advertising?
  • In company meetings, how often do you discuss the mission statement?
  • When your company faces challenges and/or difficult choices, do you consult your mission statement when reviewing possible solutions? How is it your benchmark?
  • When you create new policies, do you ensure that they mesh with your mission?
  • How often do you review your policy manual to make sure that what’s included dovetails with your mission? As just one gut-check example, how well does your disciplinary policy match your mission statement?
  • You can also review the following for matches and mismatches:
    • Your organizational chart
    • Job descriptions
    • Forms
    • Any other employee handbooks or manuals
  • Take a look at how you reward employees. Are you rewarding them for phrases contained in your mission statement? If, for example, your statement includes “providing compassionate care,” do you actually reward and promote based on that value, or are your rewards based on how well a person increases revenues or reduces expenses?
  • What processes do you have in place for employees to report when they feel that procedures conflict with the mission statement? How are those reports handled?
  • What procedures do you have in place to update the mission statement, when needed?
  • As you read through this checklist, what items would be important to add or edit to match your business’s unique needs? Who will spearhead that initiative? What is the deadline?

Rules of Engagement: The Leading Role of Women

To be successful in the workforce today, and throughout your life, you must successfully engage with people from the beginning to the end of each day. Often, it’s with people whose viewpoints don’t always match your own. And when viewpoints don’t match but you need to resolve the differences, it’s crucial to be able to effectively negotiate with the other parties to create a mutually-agreeable solution.

Quality negotiation skills are vital in situations such as accepting a job offer, asking your boss for a raise or to boost your workplace benefits, or when an organization to which you belong is making decisions that will impact people’s lives.

Traditionally, women have been more reluctant to negotiate than men, which means they have disproportionately suffered from the costs associated with not negotiating. Even today, there is a frequently-noted “confidence gap” between the genders, with one study showing that only 7 percent of women attempted to negotiate their salaries, whereas 57 percent of the men did.

Women are as competent as men in the workforce, with global studies by Goldman Sachs and Columbia University demonstrating that companies employing women actually outperform their competitors on every measure of profitability. So, the issue is confidence, not competency – but, because confidence is a critical component of success, this article will share information about how women can successfully engage and negotiate with others to receive what they deserve.

First, here is a definition of negotiation and why it’s necessary.

Nuts and Bolts of Negotiations

A negotiation is a process in which two or more parties attempt to resolve differing needs and interests through a series of communications. An employer, for example, may want to offer someone higher wages, but needs to consider the overall profitability of a company. Meanwhile, an employee may understand and support the need for a thriving business, but also needs to earn a certain wage to support his or her family.

Employers and employees negotiate because they each have what the other one needs, and they believe they can obtain a better outcome through the process than if they simply accept what the other party is offering. Sometimes, negotiations occur because the status quo is no longer acceptable for one or both parties. Negotiations take finesse because, besides dealing with specific tangible points (wages, insurance benefits and perks, as just three workplace examples), emotions play a part and ongoing relationships are involved. The parties are choosing to try to resolve their different positions through discussions, rather than arguing, or ending the relationship, having one person dominate the relationship or taking the dispute to another party with more authority.

So, here are helpful tips to help you to effectively negotiate for what you deserve.

Six Negotiating Tips for Women

Tip #1 Be Prepared

First, you must clearly define the issues involved and prepare for the negotiations. Be crystal clear about what you want to accomplish, your opening offer, your resistance point (the point at which you would be willing to walk away from the bargaining), and what alternatives you have if the negotiations don’t culminate in a solution that is acceptable to you.

Also, as much as possible, know relevant information about the other party to the negotiation. What is he or she likely to want? Understanding where this person is coming from and what he or she wants to accomplish will help you to manage the negotiation process more effectively.

Tip #2 Be Aware of Fears and Address Them Appropriately

Common negotiating fears include:

  • that your position will not be solidly presented
  • looking incompetent
  • liking people and wanting to make them happy (but perhaps not being able to give them what they want!)/not wanting to affect someone else in a negative way
  • worrying about failure
  • feeling uncomfortable about talking about money
  • aversion to conflict, overall

Sometimes simply recognizing your fears can be enough to put them into context and allow you to move forward. Other times, they point out weaknesses in your preparation – and, in that case, your fears can help you to solidify your research and negotiation approach. Overall, it can help to reframe your wants, focusing on the value they will bring to the other party, and to be prepared to share how your approach can solve the underlying problem of the other party.

Some women must also work on silencing their inner critic, a critic that might be saying how only “bitchy” women negotiate or that you somehow don’t deserve the full benefits of your hard work. Again, you can use these fears to identify places you need to bolster up your attitude and solidify your approach.

Tip #3 Recognize and Optimize Your Negotiation Style

Multiple negotiation styles exist, each on the spectrum of assertiveness and cooperativeness. Here are summaries of common styles:

  • Competing (high in assertiveness, low in cooperativeness): these negotiators are self-confident and assertive, focusing on results and the bottom line; they tend to impose their views on others
  • Avoiding (low in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators are passive and avoid conflict whenever possible; they try to remove themselves from negotiations or pass the responsibility to someone else without an honest attempt to resolve the situation
  • Collaborating (high in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators use open and honest communication, searching for creative solutions that work well for both parties, even if the solution is new; this negotiator often offers multiple recommendations for the other party to consider
  • Accommodating (low in assertiveness, high in cooperativeness): these negotiators focus on downplaying conflicts and smoothing over differences to maintain relationships; they are most concerned with satisfying the other party
  • Compromising (moderate in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators search for common ground and are willing to meet the other party in the middle; they are usually willing to give and take and find moderate satisfaction acceptable

Simply by recognizing your style, you can highlight your strengths and know where to work on weaknesses. This isn’t to suggest that the process will be quick and easy, but it can be a vital step of the process in helping you get what you deserve on an ongoing basis.

Tip #4 Practice!

Becoming effective at negotiating seldom occurs overnight and it can be helpful to first practice your negotiation skills in areas where the process may not feel as intimidating. These can include negotiations:

  • for resources, whether it’s asking for more equipment or to hire more people
  • about how to use resources; with a common purpose, solutions can be reverse engineered fairly easily
  • where you have expertise
  • with big companies where nothing is personal
  • where you have evidence to support your position, including facts, data and logical reasoning

Consider practicing what you’ll say in front of a trustworthy friend or colleague, or practice in the mirror. Imagine different scenarios for the upcoming negotiation and prepare how you might answer, doing so by answering out loud (which is quite different from simply running ideas through your head).

As you become more experienced with the process and as you experience some successes, even relatively small ones, this will help you to gain confidence and become better at negotiating, overall. This will then help to prepare you for more challenging or complex bargaining processes.

Tip #5 Fairness is Important

As long as both parties are committed to the relationship and believe there is value in coming to an agreement, negotiations can typically proceed. If one or both parties, though, are unreasonable, uninformed or stubborn – or listening to advisors with those characteristics – negotiations can fall through.

Or, if one party doesn’t necessarily need the deal and/or isn’t in a hurry – or knows that the other party is without other options and/or in a time crunch – then negotiations may not end up being fair in the long run.

You can’t change how fair the other party will be, but you can determine if your own position truly is fair. Don’t use the “gender card” to get your way, as just one example, because fairness and equality should be at the heart of every negotiation. Conversely, don’t accept an unfair agreement just because, for example, you’re tired of negotiating or you don’t think the situation can ultimately be fairly resolved.

Tip #6 Calmly Ask for What You Want

Be calm, be professional. Unfair as it may be, women who are negotiating can be watched especially closely to see if they show signs of emotion, whether anger or excitement. Ask for what you want, be willing to pause to let the other party consider what you said (rather than quickly filling in the silence) and then respond appropriately.

Always keep your pre-established resistance point front of mind. But, having said that, if a granted concession is unexpectedly greater in one area of more complex negotiations, consider if and how you might be willing to adjust your resistance point in another area as part of the overall negotiations.

Understanding Negotiation Terminology

Another way to close the confidence gap is to ensure you understand what negotiation terms mean and can use them – confidently. We’ll use the example of an employer-employee wage negotiation as our example.

Each person will have a target point, which are the wages he or she would like the other party to agree to. The difference between what an employee wants to be paid and the employer wants to pay is the bargaining range. Meanwhile, the resistance point is where a party would walk away from negotiations; if too low of a wage or raise is proposed, an employee may begin job searching or a job candidate may decline an offer; the employer also has a point at which he or she will reject a wage request and end negotiations.

When the buyer (employer) has a resistance point that’s above the seller’s (employee), this situation has a positive bargaining range. The employer, in this case, is willing to pay more than the employee’s minimum requirements, so this situation has a good chance of being satisfactorily resolved. With a negative bargaining range, though, one or both of the parties must change their resistance point(s) for there to be a possibility of resolution.

In a wage negotiation scenario, either the employer will offer a starting wage or raise, or an employee or job candidate will request a certain dollar amount; the first person to name a dollar amount is making the opening offer. If at least one of the parties has a BATNA – best alternative to negotiation agreements – then he or she will probably approach the discussions with more confidence, having another alternative. So, if an employer offers someone a job, but has another excellent candidate waiting in the wings, the employer has another alternative and can set a higher and/or firmer resistance point. Conversely, if an employee or job candidate has a unique set of skills that are especially needed today, that person probably has more options in the job market – perhaps even other pending offers. The quality of a negotiator’s alternatives drives his or her value by providing the power to walk away and/or set a higher and/or firmer resistance point.

Bargaining Styles

Plus, there is more than one type of bargaining style. One way to differentiate them is to divide them into distributive bargaining and integrative bargaining.

In distributive bargaining, parties’ needs and desires are in direct conflict with one another’s, with each party wanting a bigger piece of a fixed tangible such as money or time, so these negotiations are typically competitive. Parties are not concerned with a future relationship with the other person. A slang term for this type of negotiation is “playing hardball” or “one upping” someone. Strategies often include making extreme offers, such as an employer offering a very low wage or a job candidate asking for an exceptionally high one. Tactics include trying to persuade the other party to reconsider his or her resistance point because of the value being offered – in this example, the job candidate might say that a high salary was required because of his or her abilities or an employer could say that lower wages would be compensated by a great work environment.

With integrative bargaining, though, the goal is win-win collaborations that will provide a good opportunity for both parties. The employer would acknowledge the employee’s value and need for a decent wage, and negotiate accordingly, while the employee or job candidate would recognize the value of working at a particular company as well as the fact that the employer has numerous other financial commitments to fulfill. They recognize that they need one another to maximize their respective opportunities and negotiate from a place of trust and integrity, with a positive outlook that recognizes and validates the other party’s interest in the transaction.

Here’s an interesting psychological truth. Negotiators are more satisfied with final outcomes if there is a series of concessions rather than if their first offer is accepted, because they feel they could have done better.

Salary and Benefits Negotiation Tips

When negotiating at a workplace, don’t focus solely on wage or salary. Also discuss benefits offered and workplace perks – meaning the entire package. This can include, but is not limited to, health care coverage, life insurance, retirement programs, vacation time and flextime. If you’re job hunting, investigate what companies are offering. Where do you think the place you’re interviewing falls on that spectrum? What is the minimum pay level that you’re willing to accept? What is your preferred wage? What benefits are important to you?

If you want to work at a particular company, but the pay rate isn’t quite what you want, ask if you can have a salary review in, say, six months. This doesn’t mean accepting a salary that is clearly sub-par, nor does it mean that you should try to put more pressure on a potential employer who is already offering you a good deal. It is simply something to consider in relevant circumstances.

What workplace perks might be desired? Would a company cell phone help you? Better equipment or software? If so, you could consider accepting somewhat lower pay if you get more tools to do your job.

Or, if you have children, you could negotiate coming in half an hour later so that you can take them to school or schedule a lunch break that coincides with when you need to pick them up. If you bring crucial skills to the negotiating table, you’re more likely to get these concessions than if you are entry-level.

If relevant, ask about company policy if you become pregnant. How acceptable is the policy to you? How important of a negotiating point is this for you? What about if you are injured in the workplace? Educate yourself on your workplace rights before negotiations occur, as well as company policy. If you are valuable to the business, perhaps you can negotiate some additional flexibility.

Who should be the first to make an offer? Some experts believe that, if you allow the other party to provide a starting dollar figure, he or she has shown his or her hand. But, research indicates that final figures tend to be closer to the original number stated than what the other party had originally hoped.

What NOT to Do

Beware of “between”! It probably feels reasonable to ask for a certain salary range – or range for a raise. But if you do that with a current or prospective employer, you have basically tipped your hand as far as how low you would go. Using the word “between” is actually a concession!

Another risky term: “I think we’re close.” A savvy negotiator will recognize “deal fatigue” on your end and perhaps stall in the hopes you’ll concede, just to complete the deal.

For Best Results

People tend to feel more confident when negotiations focus on an area of their expertise and/or where solid evidence exists to back them up. Overall, success is achieved when you first:

  • Determine the interests of the other party
  • Embrace compromise
  • Observe the Golden Rule, treating others as you would like to be treated: fairly and reasonably, without defensiveness
  • Be prepared, both in factual information and in strategy

Keeping these suggestions in mind will help you to achieve success in all areas of life.

Managing Social Media Behavior at Your Veterinary Practice

Originally Published by Today’s Veterinary Business, December 2018

Use of the internet, particularly social media, can be a double-edged sword, especially in the workplace. On the plus side, it can be a wonderful vehicle for marketing your practice and otherwise connecting with clients and potential clients. On the darker side, what happens when an employee posts content that can have a negative impact on the practice? Should you respond? If so, how should you respond? If a post is offensive, do you have the option of disciplining, even firing, that employee?

Because people in general are so openly sharing thoughts and opinions on social media, it’s not surprising that many experts believe that terminations based on employees posting inappropriate content will continue to increase. Handling this type of issue at your practice can be challenging for your human resource team, given that this is a fairly new type of problem to tackle – but, finding the right approach is crucial, given that just one post has the potential to blow up into a public relations and human resource disaster.

So, how do you respond to, say, a sexist-sounding post on an employee’s page? Although you don’t want to over-react or react emotionally in the moment, and you don’t want to micro-manage your employees, here’s the crux of the situation, distilled into just one sentence. How much potential damage could a particular post have on your practice’s reputation?

What’s important is that you respond fairly, not allowing one person who, say, has a knack of being humorous in his or her posts more leeway for the same type of material that another employee posts in a more serious manner. And, if you choose not to respond, be aware that you’re still really responding – giving the message that you either are fine with the posts or you aren’t concerned with the messaging. And, although a non-response is sometimes the right choice, in today’s business environment, your practice could also be harmed by this more passive approach.

What You Can – and Cannot – Do

At a minimum, you should create a policy about your employees’ use of social media while at work. Be clear about what an employee can and cannot do, and then consistently adhere to that policy. You have the option of banning social media use entirely while on the job. If, of course, someone’s job includes posting for the practice, you’ll have to clearly delineate what is and isn’t permissible during work hours.

However, you cannot ban employees from talking about work-related issues online when they aren’t at work, and they are legally permitted to discuss topics with one another on social media that fall within protected concerted guidelines. Employees can, for example, discuss their dissatisfaction about management style at the practice, how much they’re getting paid and so forth on Facebook or Twitter, as just two examples.

Employees are not protected and can be fired, though, when they discuss these issues online with someone outside of the practice, as this no longer falls into the category of co-worker dialogue about the workplace. They can also be terminated for sharing information that is deemed confidential, including but not limited to trade secrets.

Employees aren’t protected when talking about a workplace topic that isn’t related to employment terms. If someone calls a manager “lazy,” that communication may ultimately be protected. If the employee posts, though, that the manager is “fat,” then that may open the employee up for termination. Or if an employee posts that “my veterinary office is full of ugly people,” this is leaving the realm of employment-related discussions.

It can be difficult to discern when a post crosses the line, so your practice may need help with an attorney experienced in this type of law to determine legalities of particular posts. Note that laws can differ by state so, if your company has practices in more than one of them, you may not be able to make blanket social media policies. Employee protection is especially strong in California, Colorado, Louisiana, New York and North Dakota. Also, be aware that employee protection about social media postings applies to unionized as well as non-unionized employees.

Hate Speech and Protected Classes

You can fire employees who engage in hate speech. Sometimes a post clearly contains hate speech, while at other times, it is borderline. Hate speech is defined as communication that has no purpose or meaning other than expressing a feeling of hatred for a particular group, perhaps focused on race, ethnicity or gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion and so forth.

When Creating a Social Media Policy for Your Practice

Your policy should contain clear guidelines about what is and isn’t permitted while at work, and also explicitly state that trade secrets and the like must remain confidential. The policy should ask employees to not use social media to post defamatory material that could create a hostile work environment. It is also reasonable to ask them to preface any social media remarks made about the practice online with a disclaimer that you don’t represent your employer’s point of view. It makes good sense to be proactive, too, and run your social media policy past your practice’s attorney.

As a creative solution, some companies are providing social media breaks for their employees throughout the day, perhaps 15 minutes in length, a couple of times per day. This can give everyone a chance to relax and refresh their minds. The goal isn’t to completely restrict your employees from ever using social media (which isn’t do-able, anyhow) but to encourage moderate use in appropriate ways. If you want to use this strategy, outline specifics in your social media policy.

Sharing Your Social Media Policy with Employees

How you share the news about your social media policy can go a long way in determining how well it is received. For example, you could pick a day to get some pizzas for your employees, and use that as an occasion to have a discussion on your social media policy. Explain why having the policy is so important in today’s times, and educate them on the problems that can arise when this form of communication isn’t appropriately used.

As you share the role that social media and its messaging plays in your practice’s culture and values, using a helpful approach is more likely to be successful than leaving the impression that you don’t trust your employees and plan to monitor their every message. And sometimes, by simply educating employees on privacy setting options in social media, you can help to prevent an unpleasant situation.

Share examples of appropriate/acceptable posts and ones that cross the line, and be open to questions, concerns and employee feedback. Getting employees to buy into your policy is a big step forward.

Monitoring Social Media

In general, avoid monitoring a specific employee’s social media accounts to watch for inappropriate comments. If you’re aware of a controversial comment, let that employee know how you plan to investigate and then review the situation with him or her. Then do exactly that.

When you follow up with the employee, get his or her side of the story. In some cases, the comment is so inflammatory that termination may be the only response. Other times, what the employee has to say may provide context that allows for lesser forms of discipline. Remember to be consistent and to follow up appropriately with everyone involved at the practice. As needed, update your social media policy and share it with all of your employees.

To view article on Today’s Veterinary Business, click here.

 

Practice Entity-Which Organization Is Best For You and Why it Matters

Choosing the correct structure for your veterinary practice is an important decision with consequences reaching far into the future.  Selecting your practice structure is definitely not a “do it yourself” project.  Substantial tax, legal and accounting expertise is required.  Veterinarians nevertheless need to stay active in the process to ensure the experts’ narrow technical proposals get folded into a coherent plan that reflects your needs and goals.

  • It’s Mostly About Tax. Tax considerations are the primary drivers in choosing a legal structure for a veterinary practice.  The two key aspects are taxation of income/profits and taxation upon the sale or transformation of the practice.  Don’t paint yourself into a corner by choosing a business structure without establishing a succession or exit strategy.  Exit strategies should focus not only on your richly deserved retirement, but also on contingencies such as death or disability).  Since the transformation of an existing business structures in anticipation of a sale or the buy-in of a new partner usually triggers adverse tax consequences, it is usually better to choose an initial structure with the necessary flexibility to handle new arrivals, departures and divestitures at minimum fiscal cost.
  • Liability Shield. In some structures such as partnerships, the owners are personally liable on their individual assets for the debts of the business.  In others their personal assets generally are not at risk.  Business structures, however, do not insulate veterinarians from liability arising from malpractice claims.[1]  But the shield works for almost all other claims, which in our litigious society are increasingly frequent.  Unless you are an equine or food animal veterinarian, you generally have greater exposure to claims from your client’s “slipping and falling” in your hallway, than malpractice.
  • Flexibility and Formalities. Some structures allow more management flexibility and/or are less burdensome to administer than others.  Veterinarians generally tend to ignore formalities which is a serious mistake.  Courts regularly have looked past the liability shield and held owners personally liable when the owners have failed to observe the formalities separating their personal affairs from those of the practice entity.

AN OVERVIEW

The accompanying table compares the more common business structures from a liability, management and formality perspective (in simplified form).  Following is a brief and much simplified overview of the tax characteristics of each entity.

  1. Sole Proprietorships.  Since sole proprietorships are not legally separate from the single owner, there is no separate tax return.  The practice’s profits are included in owner’s total income and are taxed at his ordinary income tax rate.  In addition to federal and (if applicable) state income tax, the owner must also pay self-employment tax equivalent to the payroll taxes due as if the owner were an employee of the practice.

Upon the sale of the sole proprietorship practice’s assets, the IRS will recapture all depreciation/amortization deductions taken by the owner/seller thereof and tax such amount at the seller’s ordinary income tax rates.  In the unlikely event that any gain remains on the assets (after adding back any depreciation/amortization to their respective “bases”[2]) they will be taxed at the lower 20% long term capital gains rate (assuming the relevant holding period is met).

The buyer receives a “step-up” (increase) in his basis in the assets proportional to the amount of (purchase price allocated thereto) allowing him to re-depreciate/amortize them.   Thus, asset sales usually are a better deal tax-wise for the buyer than for the seller, and all other things being equal, buyers will prefer to purchase assets rather than stock (in a C corp).

  1. Partnerships.  Partnerships are “pass-through” or “flow-through” entities for tax purposes, meaning that each partner includes in his own taxable income the profits (or losses) of the partnership, which are taxed as ordinary income at the partner’s individual rate (much like the owner of a sole proprietorship).  Note that each partner’s share of partnership income is taxable each year, whether such share was distributed to the partner or retained in the partnership.  If the latter, then the partner may not have the cash to pay the tax.

A consequence of the pass-through principle is that the sale of partnership interests are treated for tax purposes similarly to the sale of the underlying assets of the partnership (i.e., the assets are subject to depreciation recapture as in sole proprietorships).

  1. Corporations.  All corporations must file separate tax returns.
  • “S” Corporations. “S” corporations are corporations that elect to be taxed as a partnership. As “pass-through” entities, profits will be taxed in the hands of the shareholders whether distributed or not. An advantage of S corporations is that shareholders may take a portion of their profits as “S corporation profit,” free of payroll or self-employment tax (i.e., subject only to income tax).  Profit corresponding to what the veterinarian shareholder would have earned as an employee is subject to payroll taxes in addition to income tax.  (Sole proprietorships on the other hand must pay self-employment tax on all profits.)  S corps are popular with veterinarians for this reason.
  • “C” Corporations. “Plain vanilla” corporations (called “C” corporations to distinguish them from “S” corps) are not “pass-through” entities and are subject to corporate income tax, usually at the 35% rate for veterinary practices.[3]  Distributed profits (dividends) are taxed as ordinary income in the hands of the shareholders.  This “double taxation” discourages the distribution of C corporation profits.  On the plus side, C corp profits are not taxed until distributed, pension plan contributions are not subject to the S corp limits, and employee-shareholders’ health benefits are not taxed.  Veterinarians wishing to maximize their benefits will choose a C corp over an S corp.

If the holding period requirement has been met, the sale of C corporation stock is taxed at the favorable 20% long term capital gains rate.  The buyer does not receive a step-up in the basis of the underlying assets since he is buying the corporation stock. (The buyer can under certain circumstances elect to treat the transaction as an asset sale for tax purposes (a.k.a. a Section 338 election).)

  1. Limited Liability Companies.  Limited Liability Companies are very quite tax-wise.  Single member LLCs can elect to be taxed either as a C corp or a sole proprietorship.  Multi-member LLCs can elect to be taxed either as a C Corp or a partnership.  Unfortunately, not every state allows veterinarians for form LLC (ie, California).
  2. A Word Regarding Real Estate.  If the practice owns its own real estate it’s better placed in a separate entity held by the owner(s) or held individually by the practices owner(s).  This allows the owners to receive rent (which will be deductible from the practice’s income).  Moreover, placing the real estate and the practice in the same legal entity frequently leads to problems because the buyer can’t afford to buy the real estate in addition to the practice.

Choosing the correct business structure for your practice is important.  Don’t treat it lightly.

SIMPLIFIED PARTIAL COMPARISON OF DIFFERENT BUSINESS STRUCTURES

(Ex tax issues)

Structure or Entity Type\Issue Liability Formalities/Flexibility
Sole Proprietorship

No entity; business co-mingled with personal assets

No liability shield

 

None.  Just open your door and you’re in practice!
Corporations (“C” or “S” Corp)  A Professional Corporation (“PC”) is identical to a C Corp in all respects except that only members of the same profession (e.g., vets) can own its shares

 

Shareholder not liable for debts/liabilities of corporation (unless “corporate veil is pierced” because shareholders fail to separate their personal affairs from corporations (e.g. by ignoring formalities) Must file documents with state secretary of state.  Formalities are the most cumbersome of all entities. Less formal flexibility re management/profit sharing issues
Limited Liability Company (LLC)

(Created to provide more management flexibility than S Corp and “pass through” tax treatment )

Member not liable for debts/liabilities of LLC (subject to piercing corporate veil doctrine) Must file documents with state secretary of state; but management, profit sharing can be flexible.
General Partnership[4] Partners liable for debts/liabilities of Partnership; no liability shield Must file documents with state secretary of state, but management; profit sharing can be flexible.
[1] Salvation lies in adequate malpractice insurance.

[2] The basis of an asset is it’s original cost to the owner, as adjusted pursuant to IRS rules.

[3] Because veterinary practices usually are personal service corporations.

[4] Limited partnerships are different from general partnerships.  An LLP generally is formed among several limited partners who are normally passive financial investors and one general partner responsible for managing the enterprise. Limited partners normally are not liable for the debts/liabilities of the LLP, whereas the general partner is.  Contrary to the motion picture business, real estate or oil and gas exploration, LLPs may not be appropriate for a veterinary practice where all the members are actively engaged in the enterprise.