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Over the course of the last three months, I’ve moved from internships to mentoring to negotiations. It’s as if I’m ascending the career ladder in these columns! Truthfully, the art of successful leadership is due in part to the ability to negotiate. I bring up the topic because a colleague recently commented on the many new arrangements (and yes, risks) our organization has taken on throughout 2022; and where there are business deals, there are negotiations. That led to a conversation on multiple communication tangents, including stakeholders, motives, preparation, questions, goals, agenda, flexibility and communication.

Part of my leadership approach is believing that just because someone told me “no” on a business matter doesn’t mean I have to accept that as the final answer. Without going into specifics due to confidentiality, MedNetOne was recently rejected from a national government program that was very important to our expansion. The rejection stung, in part, of course, because no one likes to be rejected, but chiefly because our organization had been entrenched in the activities that were the focus of the national program, including health equity, social determinants of health and primary care innovation with federally qualified health centers. My leadership team requested a meeting to discuss a solution, which was granted in the form of a 30-minute videoconference. Within 15 minutes, I was able to share the various programs we were engaged in that dovetailed with the national program, as well as corresponding data and outcomes. In short, I was prepared to fight (kindly) and make the case for why our organization should be included. It worked! The “no” became a “yes” and now another door has opened for the diverse populations we serve.

Obviously, no can also mean no. But if it’s something I’m passionate about that is a fit for our organization, I don’t’ accept a final no until it’s sent to me in writing with the terms “no”, “rejected”, “denied”, or “we will not…” after my initial attempts for reversal. (I imagine I may be putting myself at risk here by admitting that. I certainly don’t want to be deluged with letters spelling out “no”!)

Another tip for negotiating is to be flexible. A decades-old leadership book, Getting to Yes, had a subhead of negotiating without giving in. While I love the getting to yes concept, in my experience, negotiating actually does require creative ways of addressing the interests of both parties. You give something, you get something; just don’t give in to the point of diminishing the value of that over which you are negotiating.

Negotiations may also involve some form of conflict resolution. Whether it’s a squabble with one’s partner or an issue that puts two parties at loggerheads, listening is critical to resolving an issue that involves significant back-and-forth dialogue. I believe a key component of active listening is being open to criticism, albeit preferably constructive criticism. We all like to think we do everything right, but of course we don’t. When attention is drawn to a personal, professional or organizational weakness, it’s advisable to step back for a minute and be open to hearing why such a weakness may be perceived. That’s a teachable moment that may hold benefits for the recipient of the criticism. A defensive response will generally doom meaningful conversation and drive it in an increasingly negative direction. I know when dealing with scenarios where a conversation gets aggressive and completely unproductive, my fight-or-flight response is to shut down, similar to when a computer reminds you, “Two applications are still open – are you sure you want to shut down?” Indeed, I do.

There may be occasions where a serious impasse has occurred in negotiations, or in day-to-day business matters that are of an important nature. When you do not receive a reply on a critical

matter, address it immediately. Make that tough call to get to the heart of the matter and resolve it or move on. That’s a tough communications scenario, but it makes us stronger for the next time it happens – and it will.

If your leadership position requires regular negotiations, what are your best practices for success? I’m always open to adding to my communications toolkit.