In the high pressure, high intensity surgical workplace, informed negotiation skills can be used to diffuse potentially volatile situations, minimising the risk of resentment, anger and negative behaviour.

Negotiation aims to reach a mutually acceptable compromise which prioritises patient care without threatening a workplace relationship. It can be informal or formal, and in common with other non-technical skills for surgeons (NOTSS), principles can be learned and skills honed.

Strategies for successful negotiation

(Adapted from Communication Toolkit: Negotiation Skills, a Working in Health Resource published by NHS Education for Scotland.)

  • Focus on the aim of the negotiation, not the minor details. Set clear objectives. Determine the interests of the other party (what they need) rather than their position (what they say they want).
  • Conduct discussions in a calm, non-confrontational manner. Inviting a neutral third party to sit in on the negotiation (or to take on a more formal role, such as chairing a negotiation) may reduce the risk of confrontation.
  • Develop ideal, realistic and fall-back negotiating positions in advance, and try to predict the other party’s positions. The area of overlap is often the area of agreement. Be pragmatic.
  • Be an active listener. Demonstrate that you empathise with the concerns of the other party.
  • Ensure that any set deadlines are realistic.
  • Consider all options and exhaust all possibilities before determining the final agreement.

More information on negotiation skills in the NHS can be found here.

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