Heather Hansen

Be a Better Negotiator

Let’s Negotiate

You can be a better negotiator. You negotiate every day–for more money, more time, more compassion, or more help. It might be that you’re asking for a raise. Maybe you’re looking to work from home, or leave early on Wednesdays. Perhaps you want your partner to do more of the housework. The root of the word negotiate is “not leisure”. If you’re not resting, you’re not negotiating. Let’s get better at it.

When we communicate we share perspectives, but when we advocate we change them. And when we negotiate, we want the other party to see things through our perspective. But first we have to see theirs. I learned that lesson, and two ways to be a better negotiator, from a failed negotiation. You can use these lessons to be a better negotiator too.

I represent doctors when they are sued. In this case, the patient had a nerve injury and sued the doctor. She said he had been negligent and we disagreed. We tried the case, but the jury couldn’t agree so we had to declare a mistrial. After the trial, the jury wanted to talk to us.

We discovered that the eight of the jury members agreed with me, and my client. And four agreed with the patient. In my cases ten of the twelve jurors have to agree. We were getting ready to retry the case, but also recognized that there was risk on either side. That’s a perfect setup for a settlement.

We made an offer, and the patient’s attorney liked it. I could see it in his body language and his facial expression, and I heard it in his tone. He said he’d recommend it to his client. But she said no. The judge called her in and urged her to take the offer. Without hesitation, she said no.

It was especially strange because she had wanted to settle the case before the first trial. We knew she wasn’t refusing on principle. And the money we had offered was fair. But then I realized that we’d been approaching the settlement all wrong. We weren’t seeing things through the patient’s perspective.

This patient was from another country, and she didn’t speak English. She lived alone, and didn’t work. In fact, she rarely left her house. But during the first trial, she interacted with people every day. She had a translator who spoke with her in her native language all day long. And the trial was interesting and engaging. Every day during both trials, every time I looked at her, she was grinning. She loved the process.

If we had seen things from her perspective, we would have known that. And by seeing things through her perspective, we could have used some creativity to get her what she wanted. Maybe we could have found somewhere for her to go every day to interact with others. Perhaps we could have allotted some of the settlement monies to finding someone to come to her home for a few hours a week. But we didn’t have perspective, and we didn’t use creativity, so we failed.

When you’re negotiating, you need perspective and creativity. These two things will help you to be a better negotiator, no matter what you are trying to get. Let’s take negotiating for a raise. See the job through your boss’ perspective, and you’ll see she’s concerned about team morale. Next, use your creativity to find a way to best explain how you contribute to team morale, and how that should be compensated more fairly. When you see things the way your boss sees them, you can think like she thinks, feel as she feels and then act with creativity. That’s how you get a win.

We won that case, so my doctor was happy. But the patient was grinning as well. Maybe she got what she wanted–whether we saw it or not.

Heather Hansen

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