Everyone becomes involved in a negotiation at some point in their career, whether or not they initiate it. A negotiation is a process in which two or more parties attempt to resolve differing needs and interests through a series of communications. It is a fact of life, especially in business, that people have conflicts that need to be resolved through a sometimes uncomfortable discussion, but there are strategies that can help you through the process.

Why Are Negotiations Needed

An employer 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 Forum

Negotiations can take place in different forums and choosing the right forum can be a critical factor in a successful negotiation. These forums are not mutually exclusive and the value of each depends upon different factors, including the location of the parties, the time available for negotiation, and each party’s comfort level with negotiating. One of the most effective methods of negotiation is the face-to-face negotiation. This is particularly true if the parties are sophisticated and experienced negotiators. The advantages of negotiating face-to-face include that the parties can devote all or most of their attention to the negotiation without distraction; being in the same room increases the urgency to achieve a resolution, and savvy negotiators can read the body language and facial expressions of the other party, which is very useful in negotiation. A face-to-face negotiation is often not possible if the parties are in different jurisdictions or cannot commit a block of time to negotiations.

If the parties are unable or unwilling to meet face-to-face, negotiation can be done by telephone, email or text. In this day and age of increasing technology, this is how most negotiations take place today. As a side note, video conferencing can have many of the same benefits of face-to-face negotiation if the parties are in different locations. One downside of these non-face-to-face negotiations, especially email or text, is that it is often difficult to explain fully a party’s position on an issue with these methods, which can lead to misunderstanding and distrust, two characteristics that can be poisonous to negotiations. It can also take longer to complete negotiations as the parties can respond at their own pace to emails and texts. A savvy, sophisticated negotiator can use these delays to their advantage by preying on the insecurity and anxiousness of an inexperienced negotiator, who will often feel pressured or hurried into making a deal to avoid losing the opportunity.

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; that’s because, in the latter, 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. Common reasons for this include:

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, say, 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!

Some people have an aversion to conflict, overall, and so they avoid the potential of it by not negotiating. Yet, others feel vulnerable when negotiating. 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.

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 being 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.

Negotiating with Corporate Consolidators

Your negotiations today are likely to be with a representative of a corporate consolidator. These individuals typically have business background, training and experience, often in banking or private equity. They are sophisticated negotiators. Be aware of the psychology involved in these types of negotiations, as these negotiators will tell you what you want to hear to gain your trust and confidence, and then will provide you with a written agreement that is vague and broadly written. This will work to their advantage as corporate consolidators have “deep pockets,” with experienced and tenacious lawyers on their side who are not averse to litigation. This alone can act as a deterrent to someone with fewer resources and less time to fight back. If you ask for more specificity in the agreement, they will say, “Trust me, things will be as I said.” They also may use pressure, either subtly or overtly, to get you to agree to their terms. For example, they will say that, if you do not sign this contract by a certain date, we will pull the offer and go with another candidate we are considering.

As mentioned above, a key element of an employment agreement that must be negotiated carefully is the restrictive covenant. This is even more critical when a corporate consolidator is the employer. In these instances, the covenant is typically broader and even more restrictive. One way this is done that is often not readily apparent on its face is in the definition of the location of the facility for the measurement of the geographical scope of the covenant and the definition of employer with whom you cannot compete or solicit employees, clients or referral sources. Since the corporate consolidators often have multiple locations in a geographical area, they try to measure the geographical scope from all of these locations, even though you may not be working at all of them. This can broaden the restriction greatly. Similarly, the definition of “employer” often includes the specific practice at which you will be working as well as the parent company, affiliates and subsidiaries of such practice. This is particularly troublesome with non-solicitation covenants, as you may not know the clients, employees and referral sources of all of these companies and thus could inadvertently violate the non-solicitation covenant. These tactics require careful negotiation on your part to limit the restrictions to the location where you will be working at and to your employer only.

Employment with corporate consolidators may seem attractive because of the many benefits they can offer. However, often these benefits are illusory. The employment agreement will typically provide that the employer can change any of these benefits at its sole discretion at any time. When negotiating this provision, the employer’s ability to change benefits should be limited to those provided to all employees, such as health insurance or retirement plans, and not to individually-negotiated perks such as paid time off, signing bonuses or payment of membership dues and licenses.

Although entering into an employment agreement with a corporate consolidator may give you the peace of mind that you have a secure and stable job, the reality is often different. Most employment agreements with these employers are for “at will” employment, meaning that the employer may terminate your employment at any time for no reason or advanced notice. Furthermore, while you may have limited job security in this scenario, you are even more at risk because you would be subject to the restrictive covenants upon termination. Attention should be paid to trying to limit the term of the restrictive covenant to the term of employment if less than one or two years. You could also try to negotiate that the restrictive covenant does not apply if you are terminated without cause. This may be difficult to achieve. You also want to negotiate a reciprocal termination right so that you are able to leave your employment without penalty upon notice to your employer.

For Best Results

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.

Terms to avoid using during negotiations:

  • “Between” – giving a range tells them how low you would go.
  • “I think we’re close” – a savvy negotiator will recognize “deal fatigue” on your end and stall in the hopes that you’ll concede.

Following these guidelines will empower you to successfully negotiate for yourself with finesse. This will help you to resolve differences with whomever you are dealing with down the road, in all areas of your life.