As a physician, what’s your negotiating style?
Specifically, how do you approach having to negotiate a physician employment contract?
Are you like the mouse?
Do you prefer to avoid negotiating at all, hoping there will be enough bread crumbs left on the table for a meager meal?
Are you like the lion?
Do you go in with teeth bared and eyes all squinty, ready to fight for what you want, knowing you won’t back down unless you get it?
Or are you like the dog?
Are you confident you’ll get the ball and have some fun too, but also understand the give and take of belonging to a pack?
It’s very common to be uncomfortable with negotiating for yourself, especially for a nonclinical career where you are less certain of your value.
It’s also possible to kill a deal by having too high demands or nit-picking an employment contract. Sometimes physicians from higher-earning specialties have unrealistic expectations about what’s an appropriate salary in a nonclinical job.
Since the stakes can be very high in terms of leaving money on the table as well as in signing contracts that are not in your favor, it’s very important to be able to negotiate for yourself.
Today I’m going to give you a 5-step process that you can use to make sure you’re asking for what’s appropriate and doing so in a way that preserves long-term relationships.
Before we jump to the process, I want to see if you identify with any of these common reasons I hear for avoiding negotiating?
I don’t want to come across as greedy with my new employer.
These contracts are standard for new hires. They’re not really negotiable so I’m not going to ask.
I grew up in a family/culture where it’s impolite to bargain or ask for more than what’s offered.
Nice women don’t negotiate. That’s for men or attorneys.
Negotiating is uncomfortable. I’d rather sign the darn thing and get on with it!
If you identify with some or all of the above, don’t worry, you can become a good negotiator.
There’s a lot to gain by learning this skill of negotiating. It’s possible that with less than a 30-minute conversation, you could increase your earning potential by 10’s of thousands of dollars over time.
You can also ensure that you’re getting the best deal in terms of benefits, and address onerous issues, such as tail coverage, giving notice, and restrictive covenants.
Companies have NO PROBLEM being clear about what they want and what’s important to them. This is business. You have every right to make sure what you’re signing works for you.
You never know what’s possible unless you ask.
I had a client who was hired recently into a very established corporate company. The number of vacation days was a sticking point for her. Even though it seemed likely that the vacation time was not negotiable, she went ahead and asked anyway.
When she mentioned that the vacation time was an issue, she did so politely and made sure to express her interest in the company and position.
To our surprise, she was actually given a whole extra week of vacation!
The worst that she could have been told was, “No!”
If you ask politely and are reasonable, you’re not going to kill the deal. By asking, you know you didn’t leave money or opportunity on the table.
There is huge value in speaking up for yourself, regardless of the outcome. Maybe you don’t end up getting what you asked for, but you do gain self-respect and confidence by advocating for yourself and not doing the mouse thing.
If you ask politely for what you need in order to be happy with the offer, and the company declines, it’s better to have found this out upfront. You now have information that’s helpful in deciding if you go forward or decline.
Now let’s look at 5 steps you can use for successful negotiations.
Step One: Do your research: Through networking and online research you can often get a reasonable idea of the appropriate salary range. Glassdoor.com provides some salary ranges. Physicians Facebook groups can be a good resource, or LinkedIn. Keep in mind that salaries can vary depending on geography, experience, or specialty. Review your contract carefully and have an attorney review it as well if you have any questions about the terms or language.
Step Two: Get clear on what’s important to you. What is non-negotiable to you in terms of salary? Schedule? Vacation? Benefits? What are you willing to give in on? Prioritize what’s most important and know what would be a deal-killer.
Step Three: Know your value: If you’re getting an offer, this company wants you! Write down all the skills, experience, and personal qualities you’re bringing to this company. If you’re like a lot of physicians, you underestimate your value. Knowing your value is not being egotistical; it’s having a realistic picture of what you bring to the table and can contribute. Coming to the negotiating table with confidence and self-assurance will serve you well.
Step Four: Determine what’s important to this company. In his book, Getting More: How You Can Negotiate to Succeed in Work and Life, author Stuart Diamond talks about “seeing” the pictures in the other person’s head. He says when you know what’s important to the people or business you’re negotiating with, you will be a more effective negotiator. Put yourself in their shoes, if you were them, what would you want assurance about in a new hire?
Step Five: Focus on a win-win outcome: The best negotiations are those that are a respectful give-and-take conversation where the goal is to arrive at a mutually agreeable outcome for both parties. If you approach negotiating as a natural way to determine if there’s an overall good fit, no matter what happens, you will have more information. You will either feel good moving forward, or you will know this is not the job for you.
Another book I recommend is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. This book isn’t specifically about job negotiations but will give fantastic guidance on how to have difficult conversations.
A mouse can become brave when it really wants that cheese.
A lion can purr when it needs to be softer.
We all have the ability to channel our “inner canine” and find a way to get that bone!
I’d love to hear about your negotiating experiences.
Squeak, roar, arff!! Here’s to your negotiating success!
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