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Strengthening Negotiation Skills, Part II

Moving Beyond Sheer Knowledge With 4 Additional Key Strategies to Create Influence for Public Health Leaders

Fernandez, Claudia S. P. DrPH, MS, RD, LDN; Roberts, Dave BS

Section Editor(s): Baker, Edward L. MD, MPH; Column Editor

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: May/June 2015 - Volume 21 - Issue 3 - p 304–307
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000218
The Management Moment

This article focuses on other variables that play a large role in creating power in negotiating situations for public health leaders besides several facets of knowledge as sources of power in negotiation already explored in part I of this article.

Department of Maternal and Child Health, Gillings School of Global Public Health (Dr Fernandez), and Kenan-Flagler Business School (Mr Roberts), The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Correspondence: Claudia S. P. Fernandez, DrPH, MS, RD, LDN, Department of Maternal and Child Health, The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB# 7445, Chapel Hill, NC 27599 (

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare. This work was not specifically supported by any grant or other project.

Negotiation skills represent a core competency for leaders in many fields.1–6 All too often experienced as an unpleasant, competitive, or combative process, negotiation is found by many to be difficult. Negotiating is particularly challenging when the parties start to negotiate on “the how” (coming to terms) before they have arrived at the commitment to reach an agreement (“the yes”). Prior to the actual negotiating phase comes a phase of influence, which has 5 major sources of power: knowledge, attitude, authority, objectivity, and skills. Knowledge, as a source of power, consists of 2 major categories: one's technical fund of knowledge, and insight data (understanding of the other person and one's own assumptions). The acquisition of knowledge through dialogue is greatly facilitated by the use of open-ended questions, such as “Tell me about...,” “Explain to me...,” and “Describe to me...,” referred to as T.E.D. questions.1 While knowledge is powerful, it would be a mistake to overrely upon its importance. Part I of this article explored several facets of knowledge as sources of power in negotiation; however, 4 other variables also play a large role in creating power in negotiating situations: attitude, authority, objectivity, and skills.

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As a critical component of creating influence, attitude relates to the strength of the need as well as the value of the solution. Parties that fail to perceive a true need for resolution will be very difficult to negotiate with. When this happens, the first course of action is to persuasively establish the need for a resolution. When working to make this case, having empathy for the other group to understand their world view and values, in addition to some of the sources of knowledge discussed in part I of this article, will be helpful. After establishing the need for a solution, then address the value of that solution. In general, there are 3 responses to expect from the other party once you begin working toward a solution: accepting, resisting, or indifferent. Accepting, the easiest outcome, generally occurs because once convinced of the need, the other party has interest in a workable solution, allowing the subsequent negotiation to proceed. However resistance is another possible response—that is, when the other party agrees that a solution is needed but disagrees that the solution proposed is the correct one or even that the negotiating party is the right one to work with. The most challenging response to meet is indifference, where the other party is not concerned with the need or the solution to it. Indifference tends to nullify data and knowledge, making those contributions to negotiating ineffectual. The remedy for this is dialogue to constructively discover what constitutes an attractive solution or with whom they might like to partner or purchase from. In creating influence through attitude, listening and asking open-ended questions are important tools. Some of these tools include the “T.E.D. questions” of “Tell me about...,” “Explain to me...,” and “Describe to me...,” and of course “Why....”1,7

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This area breaks down into “real” and “perceived” authority. Hierarchical authority represents real authority and is typically very clear in organizations, particularly those with a top-down structure. Negotiating with higher levels of the management structure (commonly referred to as “managing up”) will often require a mid-level leader to rely more on sound data and establishing a clear need, with strong demonstration of the appropriateness of the solution. Here, objective, logical arguments can increase power. On the contrary, negotiating down the power chain can be deceptively simple when intangible or hidden factors come into play. The simple power structure of the organization can allow a leader to have very little data and to run the risk of presenting the need as “because I said so” when negotiating down. Although seemingly efficient with respect to time, it can create resistance via organizational bureaucratic lethargy, sometimes referred to as the “sand in the gears” in organizational process.1 Even when trying to create downward influence, a leader is wise to present the compelling case, the data, and the reasonable solution, as well as to listen in turn, to get supervisees truly on board. Forced negotiating from a position of real authority can result in a false outcome—in actual practice, people might not give up what they were forced to put on the table during the negotiation.

This begins to introduce another highly important source of authority: perceived authority. Since not all authority falls under hierarchical lines or title designations, not all authority is visible. Some individuals have authority by virtue of knowledge or expertise. Others have informal authority by virtue of their connections and relationships. And yet others have an edge on authority because of their soft skills, sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence,8–12 that helps them navigate the complex bureaucracy of interoffice or interagency politics. Those who look equal on an office organizational chart might be quite unequal in reality because of their relationships and connections. Highly skilled negotiators have more influence, in part, because they know what kind of authority figures are on board with the proposed plan and the type of powerful authority they wield. This source of power enhances their ability to negotiate successfully.

Those who do not have actual sources of power, either real or perceived, will sometimes try to create perceived authority through manipulative behavior—which are called tactics or ploys in the negotiation world.7 These ploys often have the effect of making one party feel bad, through intimidation, emotional outbursts, or accusations. The emotional result created makes it much more difficult for the attacked party to stay on task in the negotiation. Recognizing ploys and tactics for what they are will be immensely helpful—which relates to the next component of influence, objectivity.

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A key strategy to objectivity is to plan the interaction ahead of time, thinking through the areas of influence, rather than allowing the conversation to simply evolve toward the actual negotiation. Objective measures, such as benchmarking data (a common example are blue book values13) can help the parties refrain from clinging to subjective measures of value or progress. Offering alternatives, rather than presenting one solution as “take it or leave it,” also enhances influence and successful negotiation. Presenting 2 or 3 potential solutions, and asking the other party's perspective on the utility of such, is an example strategy. Successful negotiators provide multiple alternatives, which help them stay objective and avoid being tied too tightly to any single outcome. Providing alternatives allows for flexibility and can stimulate the dialogue to allow new ideas to emerge. Being seen as part of a creative, workable other party–oriented solution helps increase influence. In remaining objective, it is also helpful to present a compelling picture of why a solution needs to happen. However, be forewarned: creating artificial reasons to compel people to adopt an idea or urgency based on false pretenses will diminish influence and reduce one's ability to negotiate successfully.

Above all, the successful negotiator avoids falling into ploys themselves, as they severely reduce influence through damaging trust.14 Ploys and tactics are power abuses that are designed to raise emotions in order to disrupt the other party's ability to negotiate successfully. A negation and influence show stopper is presenting an offer that can be interpreted as “now or never, best offer to be put on the table”—an inflexibility that can be interpreted as bullying. Other examples of ploys include eye rolling, heavy sighing, walking out, incivility, and temper tantrums. Ploys or tactics are designed to make the other party lose its ability to remain objective, derailing it by involving emotions in the process too soon—and artificially augmenting them. Another problem with ploys: the other party might use them back in retaliation, which further kills trust and leaves only a remote chance of finding a successful resolution. Ploys disrupt the process of negotiation because they are designed to make the other party feel bad, creating an emotional response to behaviors and confusing objective thinking, causing subsequent behaviors to be filtered through an emotional lens. It is nigh impossible to actually consider the ideas on the table in such an environment15 since the cycle of power abuse kills the dialogue necessary to successful negotiation.

Since ploys and tactics will seemingly always be a part of negotiation, it is important for the successful negotiator to have responses at the ready. “Golden silence” is one we teach to leadership fellows.16–18 This is to simply and silently look at the other person without a smile or smirk: simply look at them after they have engaged in their outburst. As they realize the inappropriateness of their behavior the balance of power changes and, subsequently, so does the dialogue between the 2 groups. Fully investigating the comment with something like, “I'm really surprised by your response. Help me understand...” or “there is something that I don't understand. Could you explain/clarify....” Another strategy is to acknowledge and then disagree, with a statement such as “I see where you're coming from ... I don't agree with....” Remaining objective can be the most challenging aspect to growing your influence and negotiating successfully.

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Perhaps, surprisingly, the last important strategy for improving influence, and hence negotiation ability, is skill. It is not the first strategy because skills build best upon a sound basis of knowledge, attitude, understanding the landscape of authority, and objectivity. There is no exception for learning actual skills and practicing them intentionally. Before one can teach a skill to others (shared learning), one must practice and master the skill. Engaging in perfect practice will be the most effective, as famously described by American Football Coach Vince Lombardi, “where practice is intentional and structured, with feedback promoting further skills development.”

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Several crucial pathways offer strategies to gain influence and power in negotiating.19 Putting them together in a negotiation plan is a helpful organizing tool to ensure that one addresses the current knowledge (both data- and insight-based), which also lists any missing information that needs to be gained through dialogue (eg, the other parties needs or desires), and one's own desired outcome or intent. An analysis of the power structure helps minimize surprises and including objective data, as well as considering how one will remain objective during the process, are helpful tools. Knowing how to recognize, not react, but respond to ploys and tactics will also help improve negotiation confidence and skill. The process of negotiation becomes far more streamlined when leaders first engage in the process of creating influence. Attending to the 5 components of influence before entering a negotiation situation will increase your comfort and the strength of your position for bringing the encounter to a successful and acceptable outcome.

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