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The right style and tactics make it easier to effectively advocate for yourself, your patients, and your team and reach “win-win” agreements.

Fam Pract Manag. 2023;30(3):10-14

This content conforms to AAFP criteria for CME.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial relationships.

physician negotiation

Negotiation is an ever-present part of our lives, impacting physicians both personally and professionally. Often, when we think of negotiation in our professional lives, we imagine high-stakes situations like negotiating a salary with an employer or a business deal with a new partner or vendor. But it can take many other forms, such as negotiating with leadership to change a policy or process that affects patient care, to influence investment priorities to better support the primary care team, or to improve aspects of your employment contract (e.g., protected time for administrative work) so you can carry out your professional responsibilities more effectively.

Certain negotiation strategies can improve your odds of success, meaning the agreement not only meets your needs but leads to better outcomes for everyone involved. This article provides an overview of the five different negotiating styles, describes two tools that lay the groundwork for negotiation, and outlines five steps to reaching successful agreements.


  • Negotiation is often more fruitful if you know your own bargaining style and, if possible, the other party's bargaining style.

  • Keeping in mind your “best alternative to negotiated agreement,” or BATNA, helps you know when walking away from a negotiation is better than accepting a negotiated outcome.

  • For the best outcome, start by asking for more than you want and be prepared to make concessions as talks progress.


When you enter a negotiation, you may encounter — and exhibit — five different bargaining styles:1

  • Competitive (focused on winning),

  • Collaborative (focused on win-win or best net gain),

  • Compromising (focused on finding a middle ground),

  • Avoiding (focused on minimizing high-pressure interactions),

  • Accommodating (focused on maintaining the relationship).

Although each of us tend to gravitate toward one style, we can draw on others as we need them, provided we understand and practice the styles that are less intuitive. Knowing our default style, as well as the style exercised by the other party, can greatly improve our success.

Each style prioritizes the importance of the relationship and the importance of the outcome differently. (See “Bargaining style descriptions.”) For example, the competitive style puts high value on the outcome and low value on the relationship. Thus, it is more aggressive, focusing primarily on results and prioritizing the best deal for one party at all costs. This style often achieves short-term results quickly, but the results can come at the expense of the negotiating parties' relationship. The collaborative style tends to focus on finding winwin outcomes and identifying mutually beneficial solutions to complex problems. This style may take more time, but often results in better long-term relationships and agreements that maximize the benefits to both sides. The compromising style prioritizes finding middle ground that can meet the needs of all parties; however, rather than focusing on a true “win-win” with a more complex solution, it tends to sacrifice part of what each side wants to come to an agreement. The avoiding style involves remaining neutral and minimizing tense or high-pressure interactions. Individuals who use this style are less aggressive at pursuing their goals and more focused on rapidly reaching an agreement to end the negotiation process. The accommodating style prioritizes the relationship between parties over the outcome of the negotiation, often sacrificing the optimal deal to maintain strong relationships.

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