Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Ury

Posted: May 8, 2006 at 10:25 pm in joelbooks, management

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This is a classic book on negotiation, introducing the theory of principled negotiation. The idea is that most negotiations tend to become positional negotiations fairly quickly; I offer a book for sale for $20, you offer me $10, I go $18, you go $12, we end up at $15. Positional negotiations make sense in a zero-sum game, where a gain for one party is a loss for the other. However, in more complicated negotiations, positional bargaining can often obscure the real issues at hand and prevent win-win scenarios from occurring.

The idea of principled negotiation is that you let go of positional bargaining, and instead stand firm on your interests. How those interests are satisfied by various proposals can be negotiated. By focusing on the interests, rather than clinging to positions, there is more scope for creative solutions. For instance, the authors use the example of the negotiations between Israel and Egypt where both countries laid claim to the Sinai peninsula after a war. Neither side was willing to back down. Eventually, there were discussions over the interests at work on both sides; Israel did not feel comfortable with Egypt having the ability to mobilize its army at the border. Egypt had a strong nationalistic historical interest in the Sinai, and felt strongly that its historical claims to the land needed to be upheld. By focusing on the interests of both sides, principled negotiation arrived at the solution where Egypt kept ownership of the land, but agreed to make the Sinai a demilitarized zone as a concession to Israel.

There are lots of similarly good ideas in the book, such as separating the people from the problem (i.e. don’t get mad at your negotiating counterpart – be sympathetic to them, take the time to understand their position, and you may find they will do the same for you). Find ways to work together towards creative solutions. Spend the time to brainstorm ideas, but without committing to any of the proposals. Use objective criteria whenever possible, including a third party moderator if necessary.

I also really liked the one-text solution to negotiating. Have each side write out everything they would like in a final proposal. Turn over the two competing proposals to a independent third party to turn into a single proposal including the best ideas from both sides. Then everybody works together to improve that document. It’s rapid prototyping negotiation, with the proposal as the prototype undergoing iterations.

It’s a quick read. I can see why it’s a classic. Not sure how I’ll incorporate it into my daily life, but it was worth reading.

P.S. I’m going to try to catch up on my backlog of book reviews over the next little bit. I think I’ve got four or five that I’ve never written up.

6 Responses to “Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Ury”

  1. RichardT Says:

    You might also enjoy the classic book on negotiation-based sales, You Can Negotiate Anything by Herb Cohen. It’s actually an excellent work on the theory and practice of negotiation (including examples of the different classical negotiation strategies that you’re likely to encounter in the real world), and is absolutely wonderful.

  2. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || The Art of Conversation || July || 2006 Says:

    [...] Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Ury [...]

  3. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Patterns and truth || December || 2006 Says:

    [...] So let’s say that playing games with ideas loses us the concept of absolute Truth. What do we gain, if anything? I would argue that we gain better communication. If we insist on the concept of Truth, then if somebody disagrees with us, it is because they are wrong. At best, they may be misinterpreting the Truth. This immediately sets up the conversation as being confrontational and a zero-sum game, where if one person is right, the other person is wrong. If we instead see the conversation as an opportunity for both sides to learn and to come to a mutual agreement, the conversation is much more productive. [...]

  4. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Idea functionalism || December || 2006 Says:

    [...] If we get away from the idea of the Truth, then we start to get into the realm of diplomacy in the Latour-ian sense, where we realize that others’ patterns of ideas do not necessarily match our own. Then we can marshall our arguments but do so without irrelevant appeals to authority (which is what appeals to Truth are). Instead we could base arguments on objective verifiable results. This idea is mostly cribbed from Getting to Yes. [...]

  5. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Spreading Ideas and Framing || November || 2008 Says:

    [...] Getting to Yes is another framework for thinking about these sorts of issues, as it emphasizes figuring out your principal interests and focusing on those, rather than getting sucked into zero-sum positional bargaining about specific issues. If we go into a negotiation focused on winning every individual point, we may often fail to actually achieve our interests (much like Internet pundits arguing against certain issues, but only providing them more visibility and respectability in the process). [...]

  6. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || AYE Conference Notes || November || 2009 Says:

    […] One was on being able to say no when needed – lots of interesting fodder for me to consider, including the idea that one can avoid the yes/no question entirely by providing other alternatives (shades of avoiding positional negotiations as described in Getting to Yes). […]

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