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Negotiating 101 for pharmacists

Important negotiations are about relationships, something pharmacists know a ton about. Each day we make friends with strangers needing health advice and tools to pair them with.

All you need is to wear the right pants

We are not lawyers. We are not real estate agents. However, that does not mean we are strangers to negotiating. Whether we are explaining a co-pay to a patient, signing an agreement with an employer, buying a pharmacy or making a staff schedule, there are parts of the pharmacist’s day where we just have to pull up our pants and negotiate.

In Adam Grant’s book Think Again, he argues the main goal in a debate is to have the other party rethink their original stance:

A good debate is not a war. It’s not even a tug-of-war, where you can drag your opponent to your side if you pull hard enough on the rope. It’s more like a dance that hasn’t been choreographed, negotiated with a partner who has a different set of steps in mind. If you try too hard to lead, your partner will resist. If you can adapt your moves to hers, and get her to do the same, you’re more likely to end up in rhythm.

Important negotiations are about relationships, something pharmacists know a ton about. Each day we make friends with strangers needing health advice and tools to pair them with. Using Adam Grant’s framework for debating, we can find five strategies pharmacists can do when negotiating.

Imagine changing pharmacy locations and thinking the move might deserve an extra two dollars per hour in wage:

First, look for common ground. Instead of dismissing the other party’s strong points, acknowledge them. This shows your rational humility and puts you on the same team: “I agree that we must manage the business sustainably.”

Second, avoid the tug-of-war, defend-attack battle. By taking the opposite view on something you draw a line between the two in conversation and make it one against one. Resist the urge to prove them wrong and listen to what they are saying: “I hear you about making it fair across the staff grid.”

Third, reduce the number of arguments or data points you use and focus on using only your strongest ones. The other party will recognize the weak ones and being able to dismantle them will reduce your overall case strength.

For example, explain that you bring a tangible differentiated skill that brings potential to churn more revenue (strong point). However, caution that this will be diluted by your saying that you stepped up while Suzie was on leave, you do not take many sick days or are always on time (three weaker points that are basic expectations of the job). I have already forgotten about your tangible skill!

Fourth, ask questions to engage discussion. Listening will show you what matters to them and allow you to speak the same language. You might ask: “What might you need to change your stance slightly?”

Finally, mention feelings that describe what you are getting from them in the conversation. This often disarms them and allows them to reset if coming off too strong. You might try: “I feel you digging in a little.” Being honest without exaggerating will have them question whether they are the problem in the conversation or not.

Using these five concepts serves as the pants we need to wear in our debates. Pharmacists can apply their relationship-building strengths to get what they need and at the same time, push away stress by approaching a negotiation with humble curiosity.

They can accomplish this by finding common ground, avoiding attack-defend battles, reducing the number of arguments, asking more questions and listing how they feel.

Now where did I put those negotiation pants?

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