The Art of Negotiation Starts With an Action Plan

The Art of Negotiation Starts With an Action Plan

Learn how to conclude negotiations with a win for both parties.

“Every piece of life is a negotiation,” according to AAPC Senior Vice President of Sales Jeremy Schow. “Life is a sale. We’re either being sold or we’re selling someone something.”

Schow’s session “The Art of Negotiation: Becoming a Trusted Advisor” at ELEVATE, AAPC’s leadership conference, Dec. 9-10, 2021, was on the importance of learning the art of negotiation to strengthen relationships, solve problems, and consequently become a great leader. Successful negotiations take practice, though, and you must start with taking the right approach, he began.

Take the Right Approach

“When people think of negotiations or sales, they think of it ending in a negative outcome, like someone is being taken advantage of,” said Schow. “You know, the car salesman … must always be closing [on the deal].” This, however, is not the correct way to approach negotiations. “Negotiations should always end in a win/win, and all parties are better for it,” said Schow.

Negotiations are usually stacked based on solution, relationship, and trust. When going into a negotiation, the best outcome is a trust-based outcome. You must go deep within the breadth of your personal relationship and business issues to get the best outcome for everyone, according to Schow.

Typically, when negotiating, you spend time asking questions, pitching the deal, and closing to get the desired outcome. The first triangle in Figure A shows how a real negotiation goes and how most people are taught to spend their time while negotiating. Schow recommends flipping the triangle upside down, as shown in the second triangle, so most of your time is spent asking questions and listening. “It will be a win/win for everyone. Everybody will have a better outcome because we first started asking questions,” said Schow.

Be sure your questions are concise and that you don’t ask too many of them. Listening is key. Schow said, “We are given two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen twice as hard as we speak.”

Create a Buying vs. a Selling Environment

Most people don’t like to be sold things, but they like to buy things. When you are being sold something, you often feel as if it was pushed on you. But when you buy something, you have interest in it and want it, and the decision to buy it is all yours. Schow said, as leaders, sometimes it’s our job “to get things out of our employees or those who report to us, which may not be something they always want to do.” So, how is that accomplished? Schow recommends creating a buying environment for those who report to you, rather than a selling environment.

For example, Figure B shows the typical umbrella salesman who goes door to door telling people they need an umbrella. But until someone experiences the rain, no one is buying. “As leaders, what we need to do through our questions and through our interactions is … to create the rain,” he said. “We need it to be sopping wet all over our employees, to the people who look to us, … so that they come to us saying, can I have an umbrella?” It’s not manipulation; it’s getting out of your employees what needs to be done because they wanted to do it.

To foster the negotiation tone for buying rather than selling, you must tailor your questions accordingly. For example:

Selling QuestionsBuying Questions
Do you have your 2023 code books?What resources do you use to code?
Have you seen our new Codify software?What’s most important to you when coding?
Have you purchased the CPC® course?What do you know about coding certifications?
Have you completed any ICD-10-CM training?How are you preparing for ICD-10-CM coding changes?

“The selling questions are clearly coming from the interest of the person asking the questions; we aren’t learning anything about the individual, … immediately we were being sold,” said Schow. “Whereas, in the buying questions we’re actually learning what’s most important to someone.” You can’t offer a solution for someone if you aren’t taking the time to learn about them.

5 Steps of the Trusted Advisor Negotiation Process

Leaders will have better success at getting people to do things better and faster when they use skillful negotiation. To do this, you need to plan and prepare, know the purpose of the negotiation, and formulate the desired outcome. Ask yourself what success will look like for the other person and for you. If you put others first in negotiations, you will always win, Schow said.

Build trust using the following five steps:

1. Open

2. Discovery

3. Tailored solution

4. Resolve concerns

5. Close and motivate

Bonus Video: During Schow’s presentation, he came up with “cheesy” actions to do, so you’ll never forget the five steps of the trusted advisor negotiation process. To see these actions, watch the 5-minute clip in the electronic version of Healthcare Business Monthly, available in your My AAPC app.

Once you’ve settled on the purpose and the desired outcome of your negotiations you can dive into step one:

Step 1: Open

Open has three easy components: greeting, hook or agenda, and transition to discovery.

1. Greeting: This consists of a name exchange and preliminary pleasantries (if necessary). “Not everyone is a preliminary pleasantries kind of person, but the important thing as a leader is to be you,” said Schow. If preliminary pleasantries are awkward for you, skip them. Be comfortable. Be yourself.

2. Hook or Agenda: This is where you clarify the purpose of the meeting or conversation and get the person’s buy-in for the benefit. “This is where they pay attention because they know you actually care,” said Schow. Examples on how to lead the hook or agenda are:

  • “The reason I contacted you today was to discuss …”
  • “The purpose of my call is to …”
  • “I wanted to touch base with you regarding …”
  • “I’ve called concerning …” (explain benefit)

Elements of an effective, concise agenda include purpose, an outline, and employee gain/input to find out what is most important to the employee.

3. Transition to Discovery: This is where you ask if the person has time to talk. Ask about time, especially if you initiated the conversation in passing or interrupted the person remotely through instant chat or a video call. If it’s a scheduled meeting or time that was already set aside, you can skip this step.

“Negotiations shouldn’t take long … this shouldn’t be an arduous process,” said Schow. It shouldn’t be hard on you or the other person. It should be fun because, as a leader, you’re going to learn about how your people are thinking and you’ll gain insight into being a better negotiator.

Step 2: Discovery

Discovery is the most important step in all negotiations, according to Schow. Here are his do’s and don’ts while making discoveries through questioning.

Listen intently, activelyListen for what’s familiar
Listen to specifics that make your coworker uniqueStereotype your coworker to fit the role of everyone else you talk to
Listen to understandListen to respond
Be a curious listenerBe a judgmental listener

“Asking the right questions is one of the hardest things ever because, often, … instead of listening to them, we start formulating the next question, or we answer for them,” according to Schow. “Let them respond. Everyone’s experience is unique.”

Use questions to discover more about the person. Through questions you can formulate your next inviting statement to draw more information from the person and dig deeper. For example, you can say things like, “Help me understand …,” “Walk me through …,” “Talk to me about …,” and “Fill me in on …” To get to a point where the outcome is mutually beneficial to both parties in the negotiation, you need to fill in the gap between the person’s current situation and the desired situation.

To understand why it’s important to fill the gap, go back to Figure B, with the umbrella salesman and woman caught in a downpour without an umbrella. It’s your job as a leader to dig deep with your inviting statements and questioning, so your direct report sees the gap between their current situation and desired situation and asks for an umbrella. They will feel like it’s their choice to buy the umbrella because you’ve helped them to understand why they need it.

Some examples of inviting statements for discovering an employee’s current situation during office negotiations include:

  • Tell me what your objectives are for you and your office.
  • Share with me the main issues you deal with daily.
  • Help me to understand what areas you are preparing for now and in the future.
  • Fill me in on your current plan and how it is working for you.
  • Explain to me what you are doing about …
  • Give me an idea of where your office is today in relation to where you want it to be.

When concluding the discovery step, summarize what the person shared with you, their current situation, and the desired situation; then ask two confirming questions before you transition to a tailored solution.

“Does that accurately sum up your situation?” It’s important to always ask this or something similar because it shows that you care enough to truly listen and allows the person time to recap and solve their own problem. Before you offer a solution, ask the other confirming question.

“Can you think of anything important that we have not discussed?” This is the point where the person will trust you.

When you transition to step three, the tailored solution, use a bridging phrase such as “Great! I’m very excited to share with you some possible next steps.”

Step 3: Tailored Solution

Link your discovery conversation to the recommendation or solution that hits the mark, said Schow. Linking examples include:

  • “Due to your current situation, …”
  • “Because ________ is most important to you right now, …”
  • “I can’t wait to share with you some of the solutions that you’ll love based on …”
  • “Understanding that your biggest need is ________ , here is what I recommend …”

Use FBB (feature, bridge, benefit) to tailor your solution:

Feature: A proven fact about a solution that calls back to something the employee said previously.

Bridge: A short phrase using the word “you” that connects the feature to the benefit.

Benefit: How the person would use or experience the feature.

Step 4: Resolve Concerns

When concerns arise, follow these five steps to resolve them:

1. Clarify and listen – Let the person clarify what they talked about. Listen to understand.

2. Restate the problem with no pushing – Restate the problem shared with you and verify that you understand.

3. Draw out – Ask if there is any other reason why the person doesn’t want a solution to the problem and listen to their response.

4. Isolate – Isolate the problem and address any concerns.

5. Respond – Go back to another tailored solution that is a win/win with the desired outcome.

You may need to repeat these steps until the desired outcome is a win/win.

Step 5: Close and Motivate

When you negotiate artfully, Schow said, the employee will feel as though they did the heavy lifting. You can affirm this by saying something like, “Thank you for your partnership in this. I’m glad we got to this solution together.” Remind them that you will hold them accountable to resolve the problem as agreed and that you want them to hold you accountable, as well. And mean it!

Michelle Dick
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About Has 254 Posts

Michelle A. Dick, BS, provides writing and editorial expertise to clients. She is a freelance proofreader for Partners & Napier’s Vine Creative Studios and the owner of My Garden Gal, a garden maintenance and landscaping business. Prior to becoming a free agent, Dick was an executive editor for AAPC.

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