Oh, the negotiation table. No matter which side of that table you happen to be sitting on, negotiating can be a nerve-wracking, sweat-inducing, anxiety-provoking experience. But it certainly doesn’t have to be, especially when you go into a negotiation understanding that you and your current or potential employee aren’t adversaries duking it out for a win, but rather two people—on the same team—working together to reach a mutually beneficial outcome. In other words, when your goal is a win-win, the conversation becomes a lot less contentious—and thus, a lot less sweaty. To help you make the most of your next staff salary negotiation—and maybe even enjoy the experience—we’ve rounded up a few very important dos and don’ts:

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The Dos

1. Do expect to negotiate.

As I wrote here, WebPT President Heidi Jannenga believes “you can tell a lot about a candidate based on his or her approach to negotiation, including ‘how much research they’re willing to do on the market, how they approach asking for what they want, and how confident they are about what they bring to table.’” The best candidates will know their value and be willing to discuss it with you in a confident—yet professional—manner. In fact, Jannenga encourages everyone to negotiate—“especially women, who can be reticent to ask for more even when they deserve it.” And salary negotiations extend well beyond salary; according to this article (and our own negotiation experience), there’s always more than money on the table, including:

  • Paid time off
  • Maternity and paternity time
  • Telecommuting
  • Company equity and stock
  • Job title
  • Continuing education stipends
  • Health and wellness perks
  • Early performance review
  • Company car
  • Signing bonus
  • Relocation assistance
  • Childcare
  • Expense accounts
  • Specialty equipment
  • Profit sharing and bonuses

2. Do know your limits.

According to Jannenga, knowing your limits is important—meaning that before you get to the negotiation table, you should know what you’re willing to bend on and what you’re not. Additionally, using objective resources—such as national salary data—to inform a salary range for each job description can help you quickly identify requests that your practice simply won’t be able to accommodate. From there, you can either work to find a compromise or, if you feel like there is simply too large of a divide between you and your negotiation counterpart, make the decision to walk away. But, the latter option should be a last resort. As the author of this article points out, “It’s essential to remember that negotiating, in business or otherwise, requires compromise...One-sided thinking is not likely to end with a successful deal, so make sure you know which items are essential to your position and which points you can concede.”

3. Do get comfortable negotiating in different mediums.

While some experts believe that negotiating over email may increase your chances of having a misunderstanding—you may not be able to fully decipher or convey tone via text—others believe that putting an employee on the spot, either on the phone or in person, can be just as (if not more) problematic. After all, stress can make people do and say funny things. As the practice manager, you’re in the position to set the negotiation medium you’d prefer, but it’s always a good idea to be fluent across the board (just in case your employee throws you a curve ball by requesting a different channel). That may require some practice to ensure that you can clearly and confidently communicate both verbally and in writing. If you’re not sure how your current negotiation skills stack up, ping a colleague or mentor and ask if they’d be willing to role play a few scenarios with you; then, play the same scenarios out over the phone, in person, and via email. That way, you can be sure you’ll communicate effectively regardless of the situation.

The Don’ts

1. Don’t forget to keep conversations friendly.

While this one may seem rather obvious—you’re going to have to work with the employee at some point, if you don’t already—it’s often easy to overlook the importance of being friendly when you’re in the heat of a negotiation (especially if you’re overly focused on winning). As the author of this article writes, “When it comes to business negotiations, warmth and friendliness go a long way, even as you’re aware of the need to be cautious and not too open.” Be sure to “take time to smile and exchange pleasantries. You may be surprised by how small talk can lead to shared common ground, which can lead to smoother negotiations and a better outcome for everyone involved.” On a related note, the same author believes that “the most important negotiation tactic is...listening.” He goes on to say, “The most effective negotiators follow the 80/20 rule: Listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of the time.”

2. Don’t get stuck on the initial request.

Instead of focusing completely on an employee’s initial request, dig a bit deeper until you figure out the motivation for that request (or, as the author of this article calls it, the “underlying interests”). Say, for example, your billing employee is requesting an extra week of paid time off each year, and that just isn’t possible for your clinic given its current staffing and operational needs. If you were to just say “no,” you may very well cut off the conversation before it begins—and end up losing a really wonderful employee. However, if you dig a little deeper to uncover that your employee is a single mother who desires to be available in case her young son gets sick or there’s a problem with daycare, then you could instead propose a flex schedule that allows her to adjust her work hours so she can care for her son and still put in the necessary work time. Win-win.

3. Don’t lowball your employees.

Sure, you should leave a little wiggle room in your initial offer to allow for negotiation that won’t put you over budget. However, making a habit of lowballing your employees is bad for business—and morale. According to the author of this article, “Any employer that isn’t starting salary negotiations with a competitive offer is putting themselves at a big disadvantage.” For one, “most candidates will dismiss you as lacking seriousness, or else be so embarrassed by having to ask for the $10,000 or even $20,000 more they rightfully deserve that they’ll simply move on to the next firm instead.” Furthermore, “starting with an insultingly low salary doesn’t beget trust or respect from the candidate. Remember, your end goal is to have an engaged employee that is excited to come to work.” With that in mind, it only makes sense to deliver a fair compensation package from the get-go. 

There you have it: the practice manager’s guide to staff salary negotiations. Have your own dos and don’ts to add to the mix? Share ’em in the comment section below.

Now that we’ve wet your negotiation whistle, check out this series of articles about negotiating with payers. Or, if you’re on the other side of the table—and you’re looking for strategies on how to effectively negotiate a job offer or ask for a raise—then check out this Harvard Business Review article. It has 15 really great rules for successful negotiation, including: “Make it clear they can get you,” “Be prepared for tough questions,” and “Maintain a sense of perspective.”

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