6 of the Best Negotiation Skills for Mental Health Professionals


Mental health professionals often face situations requiring negotiation. One example is when influencing a patient to follow a treatment plan. Another is when supporting families in accepting a loved one’s diagnosis.

So, what are the best negotiation skills for mental health professionals? Skills like empathy and strong communication abilities are important for engaging patients and their families to result in better outcomes. Taking an up-front approach, choosing the setting carefully, and having a backup plan are all negotiations skills trainingOpens in a new tab. techniques that are beneficial for people working in mental health care.

Be Empathetic

Unlike other illnesses like cancer or arthritis, mental health conditions can be difficult to diagnose or accept. There are very few tests that can without a doubt prove the existence of a mental health condition. There can also be crossovers between mental illnesses, and diagnoses can change over time. In particular, the first mental health diagnosis may be the most difficult to digest. The patient may not even be aware of the extent to which they are affected.

Without conclusive tests, and with the stigma associated with mental illness, the patient may go into shock or denial. So, reporting your clinical findings to the patient and their family can involve many conflicting emotions. There’s often fear about what the diagnosis might mean and its impact on the person’s lifestyle and family. That fear might also be tinged with a sense of relief at having an answer.  So, patients and their families might not react in the way you were expecting.

As a mental health practitioner, it’s important to show empathy, no matter what the situation. By empathizing, you can encourage your patient to follow the right treatment path from the get-go. The importance of understanding the person you’re engaging with is a key part of strong negotiation abilities.

Show your patients that you understand their reactions. Assist patients in coming to terms with their diagnosis. Suggest simple lifestyle changes for managing the condition. This can have the effect of making patients feel more understood and in control.

Be Transparent

Transparency encourages adherence to treatment plans. When advising patients on what changes to make, be as open as possible. Give room for the patient to suggest workable alternatives that gel with their lifestyle. As a caregiver, your task is not to dictate life choices to your patients. As you provide health education to the patient and caregivers, training yourself to be transparent can help guide toward better outcomes.

Lifestyle factors are one of the main contributors to mental illnesses. During consultations, you might pick up on stressors that could be worsening the patient’s condition. Be clear on how the patient’s lifestyle can impact their health. Enlighten the patient on the risks involved if they don’t seek to adopt a positive lifestyle.

Be open when pointing out the patient’s possible stressors. Through open communicationOpens in a new tab., you can win the patient’s trust and increase compliance.

Use Listening Skills

Knowing what the other person may be thinking can give you the upper hand in a negotiation or other interaction. Active listening skills can help improve your meetings with your patients.

When speaking to patients, use positive reinforcers like nodding your head and open body language (keeping your hands uncrossed, for instance). Make appropriate eye contact, and avoid appearing distracted by your notes. These nonverbal cues go a long way to showing the patient that you are listening.

Another technique to showing understanding is to repeat back what the patient has said. For instance, if the patient says they’re concerned about changing their treatment plan, respond using their own words: “I understand you’re concerned about changing your treatment plan. However…” Summarizing what has been said is a great way to get patients feeling more comfortable, understood, and to increase their compliance.

Pick the Right Environment

When discussing mental health issues, privacy and comfort are paramount. Negotiations tend to have better outcomes when the setting is comfortable. When a patient feels settled and relaxed, they are more open to taking instruction. Negotiating treatment plans and lifestyle changes becomes a collaborative rather than an adversarial effort. You are also more likely to reach an agreement when no one feels pressured to respond in any particular way.

A relaxed, calming environment can go a long way to fostering a cooperative relationship. Make sure your clinical setup is devoid of distractions and is in a completely private space away from the public gaze. Ensure that your admin staff know not to interrupt your consultations. Furnish your space comfortably, and set the right tone with calming décor.

Remember: As the mental health professional, you skillfully guide the treatment pathways. However, you need the patient’s goodwill. The right environment encourages active participation of the patient in working out the best plan.

Highlight Pain vs. Reward

Many patients and their families are risk averse when it comes to therapeutic options. Your patient may resist therapies and treatments even on the promise of gain. However, many patients are more willing to take positive risks if their decision may lead to avoiding discomfort or pain. Skillfully highlighting pain versus reward is a common negotiation training technique that gets results.

For example, a patient may be resistant to a change in medication despite the promise of a potential improvement in symptoms. Their resistance may come from wanting to hang onto the status quo. While the patient’s current situation may not be desirable, the familiarity of the known may be providing them comfort. In those cases, it might be worth emphasizing what they stand to lose if they don’t consider switching medication.

For example, you might remind the patient of the side effects they’re reporting on their current medication. Point out that they may be at a disadvantage if they stick to the old medication rather than trialing the new one – reminding the patient of the safety and reported efficacy of the new treatment option.

Have a Plan B

Not all negotiations go as planned. Sometimes you may not achieve what you hoped or anticipated. Mental health caregivers may not always be successful in persuading patients to follow treatment. That said, there’s no room for quitting on your patient.

The best solution is often a change of strategy. Think of alternative ways of convincing your patient without irking them. Persuade patients without infringing on their rights. Where there are no confidentiality conflicts, involve the family to encourage the patient. The family may also be available to provide support if the patient undergoes treatment.

Consider what other treatments may be appropriate if the patient refuses the first option. Some treatment plans are negotiable. Being considerate of the patient’s preferences can lead to better adherence. So, if you can negotiate health care and lifestyle changes without adversely affect outcomes, be open to a change in plan.

Enhance Your Negotiation Skills

Like your health care skills, negotiation skills are cumulative. The more you train and practice, the better you are likely to become. Enhancing your persuasion skills may increase your success in dealing with your patients.

The most important skills for achieving better outcomes include taking an empathetic and transparent approach. Show the patient you’re listening, and keep their comfort in mind during consultations. Most of all, be flexible in your approach and consider feasible alternatives to increase patient compliance.


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