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Turns Out Surgeons Are Fabulous Negotiators

Ben Byth
Turns Out Surgeons Are Fabulous Negotiators

After recently giving myself a seemingly minor laceration I was subjected to some really impressive negotiating behaviour from our health professionals! Health professionals are amazing for all sorts of reasons, but as a negotiator I was particularly impressed with the way they handled differing of opinions in their own team and pushback from the patient.


I had nicked my thumb with a handsaw and the injury itself was quite minor, in fact I was expecting the doctor to offer me a band aid and send me home. To my surprise, they were quite concerned as I had managed to nick the bone and damage the nail bed.


The First Negotiating Lesson

The first display of disciplined negotiating behaviour came when the doctor and her supervisor had a disagreement on my treatment. The doctor treating my laceration wanted to recommend escalating my case to a surgeon for a proper washout, while the supervising doctor was happy to send me home with a band aid. Regardless of who is right, they handled it really well. Once it was apparent they had misalignment on their team, the more junior doctor instantly called an adjournment so the debate could be had in private with her boss.


Disagreeing with your superiors can be really tough because:


  • You have no real authority,
  • If you don’t handle it well it might even be career limiting,
  • Disagreeing publicly might undermine your organisations credibility or position,
  • But you still need to advocate for what you believe is right.


The doctor handled it beautifully by ensuring that their disagreement wasn’t aired publicly. Taking that adjournment decreased any tension and dramatically increased the likelihood of both sides being prepared to listen to the other’s point of view (instead of reinforcing their own).


The Second Negotiating Lesson

The second display was a very good reminder of why we shouldn’t be afraid to bring sanctions to the table. After simple surgery to washout the wound I was advised it was critical to keep it dry so that the risk of infection is reduced. As a water enthusiast this presented me with a challenge… and the negotiator leaped out of me to test for flexibility in this proposal “what happens if I get it wet?”. The surgeon couldn’t have been more direct “I don’t really mind, but if you get it wet the risk is infection and you might have to sit in this chair and let me operate again. Worst case scenario being amputation. Up to you!”.


Of course, I took him seriously and have been very careful to keep it dry!


In our negotiation consultancy and courses we see people are often really nervous about bringing any bad news or sanctions to the table. Counter intuitively, if the bad news is true or the sanctions are real, I would much prefer to know. So in an effort to reduce the tension by withholding anything bad, we actually often do our counterparts a significant disservice. Of course, how and when you deliver sanctions or bad news matters. Our advice is to deal with it early and be matter-of-fact about it.


In Conclusion

The skills we teach and help clients implement to resolve commercial conflicts through consulting projects are really life skills that apply in all sorts of different contexts, the common theme being conflict. This idea of conflict doesn’t mean that we end up in a heated argument of fight, rather two or more parties’ views on a particular issue are in conflict.


How boring would it be if we all viewed the world the same way?!


In fact, one of the great by-products of diversity and equality in the workplace is diversity of thought. In other words, one person’s view may be different and in conflict to another’s view, and this is a very good thing for organisations who wish to make better decisions. If handled well, the conflicts tend to stay collaborative and productive. It doesn’t often require any particularly magical strategy, rather some EQ and the discipline to follow common sense negotiating process.


Happy negotiating!

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