As the fog of the holidays dissipates, my schedule has become nutty. Busy professionals tend to juggle personal appointments to accommodate professional ones, and I’m no different. Doctor’s appointments, dental checkups, haircuts, etc., get moved around accordingly. Recently, I was unsuccessful at negotiating a change of time for a doctor’s appointment, which really annoyed me. But then, the tables turned.
I’m rarely in need of a doctor, but when I am, the process of getting seen and dealing with insurance is no fun. In this case, I needed to consult with a doctor for an upcoming shoulder surgery. His schedule was so packed, my appointment was booked two-and-a-half months out! He also happens to be out of my network, which likely means his staff won’t submit the claim on my behalf, and I’ll have to fight with my insurance provider to get the procedure covered. Like I said, no fun.
Fast-forward to a month and a half before my appointment: I had a client invite me to give a keynote address at their team kickoff meeting. In addition, she was able to book time for their CEO and me to strategize about the upcoming year. All great news. Unfortunately, this event conflicted with my upcoming doctor’s appointment. I hoped that I could reschedule the appointment since it was so far out.
When I called to explain the situation, the scheduler informed me that the doctor’s next available time would be a month out from my original appointment — just as before, two-and-a-half months from my call. I explained that would not work as I needed the consult before the surgery. I gave her the date of my surgery, yet every date she gave me was post-surgery. It was frustrating.
After nearly an hour on the phone spent trying to figure out a solution, I gave in and told her to keep my original date. At that point, I accepted that it would be easier to get my client to reschedule their kickoff meeting than to reschedule with my doctor (note the sarcasm here). Regardless, I would figure out how to make it work, even if it meant red-eye flights or teleportation.
Over the next two weeks, I worked with my client to come up with a solution. Unlike my doctor’s scheduler, my client was far more understanding. However, her hands were tied in terms of being able to move the event. Nevertheless, we worked diligently to see how I could do both. That’s when the phone rang — it was my doctor’s scheduler.
“I see we have an appointment with you in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the doctor will not be in the office that afternoon. Can you come in earlier that day?” She seemed completely oblivious to the fact that, two weeks earlier, we spent an hour trying to move the immovable appointment. As a frustrated person, I wanted to yell at her. As a negotiator, I took a different approach.
First, I asked about the conflict and where the doctor was going. She said the doctor was headed to a family event, and he’d be out of the office for a few days afterward.
Then I asked, “What happens if I can’t move my appointment to an earlier time?” To my surprise, she said the doctor would leave after my appointment.
Finally, I asked, “Just suppose that earlier in the day doesn’t work for me. Would he have availability the week before?” She said he did. Admittedly, I loved and hated this answer: loved it because I knew it would help me; hated it because it felt like they had lied to me before.
Then I proposed, “If you would be willing to submit my out-of-network claim to my insurer for me and can find a suitable time for the appointment the week before, then I would be willing to move my appointment. Is that possible?” After a short pause, she said, “Yes.”
When I tried to move the appointment in the first place, there was nothing the doctor needed from me. I had little power other than the power of persuasion, and that didn’t work very well. When the second opportunity presented itself, the doctor needed something from me, which gave me leverage to negotiate a better outcome for both of us.
Therein lies the moral of the story: where there’s a need, there’s a negotiation.