(c) 2010 David Prior – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, 2nd ed.
1991 New York: Houghton Mifflin Company
Getting to Yes is a slim book that packs a lot of useful advice from corporate, government, and personal experience. The focus on principled negotiation, reason, and objective criteria will help me learn to keep my cool during difficult negotiations, and to stay focused on finding or creating options that address people’s interests instead of being limited to the positions that have been expressed.
This book focuses more on the process of negotiation, while “Thank You for Arguing” focuses more on the forms of rhetoric and the components of argument. Both are good reads in this area.
One of the key things I’d like to do to apply the lessons from this book is to develop better relationships with people, which can help when negotiating. (Not just for the purpose of negotiation, of course!) The more I understand about other people and the more they understand about me, the better the conversations can be.
Aside from applying these ideas to relationships with family and friends, I’m also looking forward to exploring this through outsourcing or other avenues.
- Part 1: The Problem: Don’t bargain over positions
When you think about negotiation, it’s hard to escape the stereotype of haggling over souvenirs, houses, or salaries. There are age-old tactics for dealing with those kinds of negotations: start with an extreme, and only grudgingly give up ground. The authors argue that this kind of position-based negotiation is inefficient and ineffective. Instead of getting locked into one position or another, you should focus on understanding your interests and other parties’ interests, and inventing creative solutions that work for everyone if possible.
- Part 2: The method
In this part, the book gives concrete tips for working through the different components of a negotiation: people, interests, options, and criteria.
People: We often see negotiation as an adversarial problem. If you can reframe it from a contest of wills to a cooperative initiative to find something that works for all parties, negotiation becomes much easier. This can be difficult when there’s a lot of public pressure, so understand people’s private interests as well as their expressed ones. The book also points out the importance of focusing not just on the situation, but also on the relationship, and the value of developing a good working relationship outside the negotiation.
Interests: The positions people take may give some clues about the interests they have, but these positions should not be the final word in negotiation. Find out more about what people truly value, because that may help you find creative ways to address those interests.
Options: If you don’t firmly commit yourself to a position, you have more space to find better solutions that line up with people’s interests.
Criteria: It’s better to negotiate using reason and objective criteria than to take arbitrary positions. Identify objective criteria you and other parties can agree on, and use those to evaluate the options. Translate irrational arguments into objective criteria, asking questions to investigate.
- Part 3: Yes, but…
This is where negotiation meets the real world. In this part, the book covers how to negotiate with a seemingly more powerful opponent, a stand-off, and dirty tricks.
How to deal with power imbalances: Develop your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA). This will help you resist pressure. If your alternative is stronger than their alternative, you will also have more negotiation room.
It’s important to pick one alternative as your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, and to have a good idea of this alternative before negotiating. We can be overly optimistic and think of hundreds of alternatives. If we don’t choose, however, we can feel overwhelmed. Picking one forces clarity and makes it easier to walk away if necessary.
How to deal with people who won’t negotiate: If people are locked into positions and don’t want to negotiate, or focus on irrational arguments, you still have several approaches you can try. The first approach is to focus on negotiating well yourself, using interests, options, and objective criteria. Another option is to redirect their negotiation moves in a way that focuses on interests, options, and objective criteria. The third strategy uses a trained mediator who can help you focus on collaboratively finding a solution.
How to deal with dirty tricks: Keep your best alternative in mind. Call out the tactic and talk about it. Use objective criteria to avoid giving in to pressure. Don’t be afraid to take breaks or to walk away if necessary.
- Part 4: In Conclusion
It’s not about “winning” – it’s about finding ways to deal with differences. The book has a lot of advice that we’ve heard from different sources, but you still need to practice in order to get better at it.
- Part 5: Ten questions people ask about Getting to Yes
- Questions about fairness and “principled” negotiation
- “Does positional bargaining ever make sense?”
- “What if the other side believes in a different standard of fairness?”
- “Should I be fair even if I don’t have to be?”
- Questions about dealing with people
- “What do I do if the people are the problem?”
- “Should I negotiate even with terrorists or someone like Hitler? When does it make sense not to negotiate?”
- “How should I adjust my negotiating approach to account for differences of personality, gender, culture, and so on?”
- Questions about tactics
- “How do I decide things like ‘Where should we meet?’ ‘Who should make the first offer?’ and ‘How high should I start?'”
- “Concretely, how do I move from inventing options to making commitments?”
- “How do I try out these ideas without taking too much risk?”
- Questions about power
- “Can the way I negotiate really make a difference if the other side is more powerful?” And “How do I enhance my negotiating power?”
- Questions about fairness and “principled” negotiation