Here are some steps to follow in negotiations

Plan, set climate, clarify

Clinical trial site investigators and others involved in contract negotiations can improve their negotiation techniques by following six simple steps, an expert says.

Barry Sagotsky, MBA, owner of Magnolia Lane Consulting of Princeton, NJ, and a partner with Asherman Associates in New York, NY, outlines key strategies to negotiation success, as follows:

1. Plan your negotiation strategy.

As part of planning, determine your own important issues and whether you have data to support your point of view. Also anticipate how the other party will react and what they'll want from the meeting. It's also a good idea to know what your ideal outcome is versus what you are willing to accept.

"People don't prepare and often are too anxious to get into it because they think they don't have time to negotiate," Sagotsky says. "Why shouldn't you spend an extra half hour getting it right when you're involved in the negotiations rather than wait to fix it later after the negotiations are done?"

2. Set the right climate.

"This takes an extra minute or two, but its objective is to reduce anxiety so the other party can hear what you are saying and react appropriately," Sagotsky says.

"A lot of people want to just start in the negotiations, saying, 'Let's get to it,'" he adds. "But that's not something that calms down the other party; some people are less likely to talk then and have less trust."

3. Clarify the issues.

This step outlines the reason for the meeting and establishes the issues of both parties.

Negotiators at this step will ask good questions and follow-up points so they'll understand what the other party is interested in achieving.

"The main job of a negotiator is to find out why the other party thinks they're right," Sagotsky says. "It's a truth that each party is right in their own mind or thinks they're right — no one comes to negotiations knowing they're wrong."

So the issue identification step helps a negotiator find out why the other party believes what they do.

"This is the most overlooked piece of the negotiation process," Sagotsky says.

"People tend to go to talking about price, talking about why the price may be too high," he adds. "But if you talk about the price and delivery and quality and length of relationship and those sorts of things that both parties might be interested in, then you will have more concessions and compromise."

4. Make room for negotiating give and take.

At this point in the negotiations, a person might discuss the issues that were identified and ask for input on how each side can meet these objectives.

"A negotiator might ask, 'What are we going to do about getting you what you need and getting me what I need?'" Sagotsky says. "This is where continuing to listen and ask questions is important, and it's a way to also deepen the relationship and trust."

When this is not done well, the relationship can become worse.

"How you handle give-and-take will have an impact on your relationship the next time you meet," Sagotsky says. "We're consulting and not bargaining or pressuring to have a winner or loser; it should be a win-win negotiation."

1. Solve the problem.

At this point, negotiators should determine what needs to be done to reach a settlement.

"The first part is working through the issues you've identified during bargaining and going back and forth," Sagotsky says. "You make concessions, bargain, and now you come to a settlement."

Negotiators can solve the problem by summarizing the agreement and rechecking to make sure everyone understands what is being agreed to before finalizing the settlement, he adds.

2. Review the negotiation process and reach a settlement.

Clinical trial site negotiators should see a review process as their last step.

"How did the negotiations go?" Sagotsky says. "Look at the planning and preparation and determine what worked and what didn't."

Assuming a study site will meet again with the same sponsor or clinical research organization, the review process will help inform later negotiations.

The review also will provide clues as to how a site can improve its relationship with the sponsoring organization.