The Business School 101 for Physical Therapy series is designed for outpatient therapy business owners and leaders. Over the next several weeks, we will explore concepts and strategies within business operations, marketing, finance, customer knowledge, and more. Of course, it is not meant to replace a traditional MBA, but we hope it will provide helpful insights, tips, or refreshers for growth-minded business novices and veterans alike.
If you own or manage a physical therapy business, you negotiate – a lot. And it’s not just traditional contracts or formal agreements you have to reach terms on. You’re negotiating essentially everything that has a desired outcome. Whether discussing price with a vendor, compensation with an employee, or lease terms with your landlord, you’re negotiating!
Negotiating isn’t always easy, and it’s a learned skill. Take it from me, I had a lot of trial and error from my own experience. I want to share that with you.
Here are some personally tested strategies and tactics to consider as you negotiate daily in your own PT practice.
Strategy 1: Realize You’re Negotiating
If you don’t first acknowledge that you’re in the midst of negotiation – and the head across the table does – you’re apt to lose out on something you didn’t even know you could have been playing for. Ouch.
Understand that any conversation can quickly evolve into a negotiation dialogue. That doesn’t mean you have to walk around all day with a chip on your shoulder or avoid people because you assume someone is always after something. What is means is being able to recognize when conversations start to veer into negotiation territory. Anticipate it.
There are certain clues to look out for, for instance:
- Are you being asked of something outside your current commitments?
- Did your counterpart say “no” when you asked something of them?
- Are you being asked questions about existing or potential points of conflict?
When these scenarios happen, take a moment to mentally recognize that a negotiation dialogue has begun and position your state of mind accordingly.
Strategy 2: Do the Research
Of course, it’s easiest to set your mind of for negotiations when you have a planned engagement with someone – say, a meeting with a vendor or client – because you have time on your side.
Use the time and research whatever topic you will be discussing beforehand. You don’t want to be caught off guard trying to speak to a topic you don’t really understand or risk you getting taken advantage of.
What’s great is you don’t have to be a master in the topic. Even some basic familiarity with the language will put you in a better position because it’ll build personal credibility, and it can even tip the balance in your favor by catching your counterpart off guard.
You also want to research the person with whom you’re negotiating. Consider what motivates them. What are their concerns and constraints? If you’re discussing compensation with an employee, for example, try asking them what they’re looking for (money, advancement, etc.). This will give you the opportunity to help them with a path toward that end. Often understanding what the other person values and where their mindset is can help you reconcile with your own and come to a middle ground or win-win.
Strategy 3: Negotiating is Not a Zero-Sum Game
Speaking of win-win, someone somewhere probably led you to believe that negotiating must be ‘zero-sum’ game. It doesn’t, and in fact, it really shouldn’t be. For you to win, someone else doesn’t have to lose. The best negotiations result in wins for all parties – the prized outcome of all good negotiators.
And while win-wins are the ultimate prize, the foremost goal should be to ensure you don’t shortchange yourself. Walking away from a deal that didn’t have enough in it for you may carry some level of disappointment, but this is far better than the regret (or worse yet – the ignorance) of not getting your fair shake.
Strategy 4: Most Importantly, Listen
I try to keep one principle at the forefront while negotiating. I listen.
Listening doesn’t mean you don’t have something to say. There are very important aspects of negotiating which require that you plant your flag, making your stance be known. Do this too early though, especially before you know what makes your counterpart tick, and you’ve begun operating with limited knowledge. And knowledge is power when negotiating (see Strategy 2).
Where flexibility is present – and most times there is – there are many paths to a desirable outcome. If you know how to use it, arming yourself with every bit of information you can uncover is going to work in your favor. Listening is a key tool.
Remember that it’s not a criminal act to allow yourself every advantage you can get. If there’s one thing we need in the physical therapy profession, it’s the ability to give ourselves an edge.