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As a veterinarian, you have to navigate a myriad of interconnected relationships; with your clients, your patients, your colleagues, and your manager. Sometimes, it can feel like you are stepping on eggshells, let alone when you need to negotiate something! 

Whether this be negotiating with a colleague in order to swap shifts, swapping a case so you can practice a new skill, or negotiating benefits during a job interview, the prospect can be daunting. However, bear in mind that negotiation is not about bartering or throwing a tantrum. It is about arriving at a solution that benefits both parties.

Negotiation is a crucial life skill that helps everyone win. Here are my four ways to do so effectively:

Negotiating with your boss

You may benefit from negotiating with your boss for pay raises, upgrading equipment and general contract negotiations during the interview.

Let us start with negotiating at the interview stage. This is perhaps the most fruitful opportunity for negotiation, so don’t be scared to pursue it. It is important to remember that the interview is a two-way conversation; as much about you asking questions to the employer as it is about them asking you questions. 

First of all, thoroughly read the job description so you have an understanding of what is expected of you. Then, consider what is important to you in a contract, and whether your priorities align with your ability to fulfil the job role. For example, a comprehensive pension scheme may be important to you, health insurance, annual leave, flexible working, training. Create a list of these priorities to discuss at the interview. Make sure you tell the employer what is important to you in a contract, and ask what is important to them too. This way, you will see if your values are aligned and can pinpoint areas for negotiation.

When it comes to negotiating the upgrading of equipment, remember that negotiation should meet the needs of both parties. Play to your manager’s values. For example, if you know they value accuracy and reliability, you can present the need for a Doppler enabled ultrasound machine in line with these values: this machine will give us the ability to measure blood flow with the utmost accuracy and reliability, and will help me to accomplish my goal of detecting heart murmurs. This is not bending the truth, merely stating how the service can be improved so that the best care is provided for patients.

Many veterinarians cower in the face of negotiating a pay raise, but this should be an easy and amicable conversation. A nice way to do this is simply to ask what the criteria are for determining pay rates. If your boss doesn’t have an answer straight away, don’t make them feel stupid or uncomfortable, but arrange a meeting with them in the near future. In the meeting, ask them how the criteria is measured and what you need to do differently in order to reach the criteria. Plainly asking ‘how am I doing?’ is not good enough. To really stand a chance of getting a pay raise, you need to be specific about the criteria.

Negotiating with colleagues 

Negotiating a case swap or rota change shouldn’t be awkward. However, people often have a tendency to dive straight into negotiation with all cylinders blazing, before building any kind of rapport.

It is vital to invest time in building rapport with your colleagues (and your manager), understand their perspectives and emphasise your shared values. Before diving in with your requirements – ‘I would like this weekend off’ – ask them if there is any weekend they need off and if you could swap shifts to enable this.

According to the principle of reciprocity, people often feel obliged to reciprocate favours. If you are alert to your colleagues’ needs and build a great rapport, your negotiations will inevitably become more successful.

Negotiating with clients

Giving recommendations to your clients, especially in this culture of increased choice, can often turn into a negotiation. Indeed, you require artful negotiation skills in order for the client to follow the recommendation best for their animal’s health.

Perhaps they have money concerns, or have a fear of anaesthetic. The best way to approach this is by having what is called a ‘cognitive conversation.’ This is using rational reasoning and factual information, so the choice to follow your recommendation becomes a no-brainer. For example, you may use an LED light to physically show the amount of tooth decay your client’s pet has. This is evidence-based, concrete, and works persuasive wonders. 

In the case of fearing anaesthetic, you could say that anaesthesia is incredibly safer than it used to be. The horror stories no longer apply. Approximately one in 1,000 healthy cats and one in 2,000 healthy dogs die under anesthesia each year.

Think about how you negotiate successfully with animals everyday. What about that dog who wouldn’t get on the examination table, so you completed the history on the floor. Or the cat that you coaxed out of his carry case using treats. Think about the emotional understanding you have with animals, and apply this to your interactions with clients. The client must feel comfortable and trusting. How can you make them feel this way?

Negotiating with yourself

Negotiating with yourself may seem like a paradox, but this is something all veterinarians should learn. Although it is important to set objectives, something that we actively encourage, it is also vital to remain open-minded. Sometimes, life will throw you a curveball and you might not be able to accomplish your goal within the time-frame you wished, or at all. This is particularly true in the current climate, where we have all been plunged into a pandemic.

A determined mindset is great for accomplishing goals, but this can often turn into rigidity and perfectionism. This means that failure is devastating. Therefore, when you are deciding on your next goal, think about a variety of ways you could accomplish it. For example, you may wish to start specialising in dentistry. This means that you will have to take training courses, find a mentor, and negotiate with your employer to secure upgraded equipment.

What if this is not possible?

You must be open-minded. Maybe you could move to a new practice? Re-locate? Or perhaps your employer can offer you a different specialisation?

Ultimately, learning to negotiate with yourself is a crucial piece in any veterinarian’s toolkit. Open-mindedness, positivity and adaptability can help you power through problems instead of abandoning opportunities.

Join the conversation! Do you have any experiences of negotiating successfully? Or unsuccessfully? 

If you found this post useful, you may be interested in our FREE webinar, 4 Steps to a Happy and Successful Career as a Veterinarian. Dr Dave Nicol shares practical advice on how you can change your circumstances in veterinary medicine and have a happier, healthier career.

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