Negotiating knowhow

September 27, 2010 (CHICAGO)

And what is the best way to make sure you get a fair deal on a contract?

Often, it may depend on how well you bargain on your own behalf.

Negotiating is a skill, and especially now, it is a good skill to have to save you money or make more money.

For Angela Danso, an energetic son and a daughter exploring the world as toddlers do meant regular trips to the pediatrician were inevitable.

A $400 bill after insurance benefits, however, was a surprise.

The Dansos are a one income family until mom Angela finishes her master's degree, so Danso made an uncomfortable call to the doctor's office.

"I'm a patient there and I plan to be for a long time, and if there's something you can do now that would be great," she said.

What they did was a better surprise. Danso ended up getting that bill discounted as well as later negotiated discounts on future office visits.

"It can certainly happen," she said. "It's worth a shot."

The Dansos' pediatrician didn't want to talk with us on camera, but it seems some medical providers in our area are willing to negotiate a bill. All you have to do is ask.

The discounts are not advertised, but if you are brave enough to have a conversation, providers may sometimes negotiate down.

Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center does publicize its charity program.

The hospital's director of patient accounts says they approve 200 cases each month. Patients who qualify can get a portion of the bill forgiven and in some cases the bill if tossed out, but it all requires the patient to reach out.

"They can always contact us," said Jean Kummerer of Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center. "We are there to help them. We have financial counselors available."

"They say the hardest thing is public speaking," said Dr. Linda Liang, an industrial organizational psychologist at The Chicago School. "I think right behind it is asking for something."

Liang teaches executives and non-executives alike skills to be comfortable in taking the lead.

She recommends that before negotiating a bill or contract, people practice in the mirror and write out bullet points laying out your requests and reasons, even if you do not read them, as it helps to crystallize your thoughts.

During the conversation, Liang recommends using a loud, strong, energetic voice.

"Be confident, be factual," said Liang. "Know what you want and go for it."

A group of job seekers at Career Transitions Center hope to have conversations with future employers about salaries soon.

Career coach Jim McLaughlin said being a confident negotiator comes from being prepared.

McLaughlin recommends that before salary negotiation, people research other salaries for that job and your previous salaries.

"If you're negotiating a raise, go to your boss with concrete accomplishments, how you made a difference for the company," said McLaughlin. "You can't just say, 'You gotta give me a raise because you like me,' or, 'Because I've been there for a year' - you have to give them a reason for it. It makes their job easy."

Participant Crystal Plummer said she had previously negotiated a small salary increase, but now she is armed with a whole new skill set to negotiate more.

"I'm absolutely ready," said Plummer. "I'm gonna take my Jim McLaughlin techniques and I'm going for it."

When negotiating a salary or raise, consider other perks beside money that have value to you, like use of a company car, an extra week of vacation, a parking space, bonuses, or even a performance review in the future that would revisit a raise.

An employer may be more willing to offer a perk than money right now.

Experts also say that if you are not a skilled negotiator, you should start small. Begin with negotiating to have a fee removed or reduced, and then work you're way up to the big stuff like a raise.

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