How A CEO Negotiated Her Son's Life Or Death Medical Challenge

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Annie Dean is the cofounder and co CEO of Werk, a company that pre-negotiates job flexibility for working women. As a former Wall Street attorney and a mother of two, negotiating is something in which she has deep experience.

“When you have a strong belief rooted in facts, as long as you’re treating your negotiation partner as an ally as opposed to adversary, you get better outcomes,” said Dean.

Dean had to apply all of her negotiation and advocacy expertise when her son was born with a rare genetic disorder called Kabuki Syndrome.

Her son didn’t have the developmental coordination to feed himself, and his doctors wanted to put a feeding tube in him right away, because nutrition is as important as breathing. As Dean learned, “if you can de-risk the feeding, that’s the best of both worlds.”

As Dean researched her son’s condition, she learned that there are long term risks of putting feeding tubes in a child. Because of his disorder, “he might have sensory issues. If you take a child outside the natural way to develop senses to smells, tastes, textures, you impact their ability to build a healthy relationship with food.” Dean was adamant that her son have the chance to learn to feed himself.

“Doctors are used to parents saying yes to their commands,” said Dean. “It’s difficult in a time of crisis to step up and be an advocate. As a trained attorney and someone who knew my own values, I was able to say, ‘this isn't an option for us.’”

Dean approached the situation as a negotiation. She brought a creative problem solving mindset to the discussion: “I didn’t just say, ‘I don't want to do a feeding tube.’ I had risk assessments, interventions I thought could help, and a plan for what I would do if I saw symptoms.”

The medical team saw that she was not only credible, but extremely passionate.

“One of the things I say as an attorney is that you need to believe your viewpoint,” said Dean. “You want to make sure that you are informed and passionate about your viewpoint. You have to understand all aspects of the situation, and also be honest about the places where you’re uncertain — ultimately, it creates more trust.”

Dean won the debate with her son’s medical team, and they did not demand that he have a feeding tube. In exchange, she agreed to certain conditions where her son would be regularly monitored.

Over time, he developed his feeding and coordination skills and stopped getting sick so frequently. At a recent checkup, Dean found out that her son was the subject of a huge medical conference. 

According to Dean, it was unbelievable to the doctors in attendance that he could overcome his challenges. She and her son have now given many other children the chance to take a therapeutic route rather than surgical.

“That’s an enormous win for our family and many other children,” said Dean.

“When the stakes are life or death, it makes you a very shrewd negotiator going forward. When you have your values tested, you know what matters and what doesn’t. You develop the self knowledge to know what's worth fighting for and what’s worth letting go.”

This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.
 

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Alexandra Dickinson

Alexandra Dickinson is the CEO and founder of Ask For It, a boutique consulting company working to close the gender wage gap by effecting change at both the institutional and individual level. We work with companies, schools, organizations and individuals through a combination of trainings, workshops and consulting. Our goal is for women and men to be paid based on their talents and skills, regardless of gender, and for our company to have been an important part of that change.