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Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.
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In our daily lives, we all negotiate with others for things we want, whether the context is business or personal. For instance, at work we may negotiate a contract with a supplier, while at home we may negotiate with siblings over the division of family heirlooms or with a spouse over where to go on vacation.

In Getting to Yes, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury point out that the number of situations requiring negotiation is increasing. Organizational structures are less hierarchical than they used to be and people expect to have a say in decisions that affect them rather than being dictated to by a boss. This requires negotiation.

The Problem with Traditional Negotiation

Despite the prevalence of negotiation, however, we don’t do it very well. Most people haven’t been taught negotiation skills, but a bigger problem is the inadequacy of the age-old adversarial method we use, which the authors call positional bargaining.

In positional bargaining, each side starts with a position, argues and defends it, and bargains to reach a compromise. An example is when you bargain with a seller over the price of something.

People tend to take one of two approaches: aggressive or friendly (hard or soft). Hard negotiators strive to win by taking the toughest positions and holding out the longest. They may use posturing, threats, and other strong-arm tactics. Those who take a friendlier approach try to avoid conflict and reach an amicable agreement. Neither approach is ideal. Positional bargaining often produces unfair, less-than-optimal outcomes, and it’s inefficient and damages relationships.

The Solution: Principled Negotiation

The authors offer an alternative approach, principled negotiation, which is designed to generate fair agreements efficiently and civilly. Negotiators decide issues on the objective merits (facts and evidence), rather than on what’s acceptable or unacceptable to each side, and they look for mutual gains. Where interests conflict, results are based on fair, objective standards. Principled negotiators avoid deceptive tactics, posturing, and threats.

Anyone can use principled negotiation in almost any circumstances. There are four elements:

1. People: Separate personalities and emotions from the issue being negotiated. Because the relationship involves people and their emotions, it gets intertwined with the substance of the negotiations. For example, you may think you’re simply pointing out a problem (“The warehouse is a mess”), but someone on the other side may take it as a personal attack or blaming. Handling people sensitively and respectfully is a prerequisite for successful negotiation and for a constructive ongoing relationship.

This is important because most negotiations involve a long-term relationship that’s important to maintain. For instance, union members and bosses must be able to work together for a strong company bottom line and job stability.

2. Interests: Focus on the underlying interests of each side, not on positions. Interests involve people’s needs, desires, fears, and concerns — they’re the reasons behind the positions people take.

An example illustrates the difference. Two men get into an argument at a library because one wants to keep a window open while the other wants to close it; neither is willing to go halfway. The librarian asks each man for his reasons. One wants the window open to get fresh air; the other wants it closed to avoid a draft. So, the librarian opens a window in an adjoining room to provide air flow and avoid creating a draft. She resolved the conflict by focusing on the men’s underlying interests, rather than their positions on opening or closing a particular window.

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Getting to Yes Summary Getting to Yes Guide Introduction

We’re all negotiators — negotiation is how we get what we want from others in business and personal life. We negotiate with our bosses, clients, sellers, real estate agents, family members, and others. In fact, we reach most decisions in our lives through negotiation, often without realizing it.

In Getting to Yes, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury note that the number of situations requiring negotiation keeps increasing, which makes it essential to learn negotiation skills. Twenty or more years ago, command-and-control structures with a chain of bosses ordering our actions were common. Today, however, organizational structures are less hierarchical, more companies emphasize teamwork, and people expect a say in decisions that affect them rather than being dictated to. This requires negotiation.

Getting to Yes, a 30-year-old classic updated in 2011, presents an alternative to adversarial bargaining — principled negotiation, a process focusing on finding creative options that serve mutual interests (some have...

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Shortform Exercise: Review Your Negotiations

We’re always negotiating in our personal and work lives. In the traditional method of adversarial bargaining, each side starts with a position, argues and defends it, and haggles to reach a compromise.


Think of a situation where you negotiated with someone over something, for instance a used car, a job offer, or how to divide the housework. What did you want? What did the other person want? How did it turn out?

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Getting to Yes Summary Getting to Yes Guide Part 1: Problems With Traditional Negotiation

The authors identify three criteria for successful negotiation that apply to any method:

  • The resulting agreement must be wise, meaning that it meets the interests of each side, and it’s fair and lasting.
  • The process must be efficient, producing results without wasting time.
  • The process must strengthen the relationship between the parties — or at least not damage it.

Positional bargaining falls short on all three counts.

Bargaining from Positions

In positional bargaining, each side starts with a position, argues and defends it, and bargains to reach a compromise. A classic example is when you haggle with a seller over the price of something.

Positional bargaining involves each side offering a series of positions and concessions, which takes considerable time. Each can clearly see what the other wants and the process usually leads to an agreement that both sides accept. But the agreement it produces doesn’t meet the three criteria (wise, efficient, and friendly).

Specifically, arguing over positions is problematic because:

1) Positional bargaining produces bad outcomes: Negotiators become rigid in their positions. The harder you try to...

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Shortform Exercise: Three Criteria

The authors identify three criteria for successful negotiation: 1) the agreement must be wise, meaning that it meets the interests of each side and it’s fair; 2) the process must be efficient; and 3) the process must strengthen the relationship.


Think of a recent negotiation you were involved in. How did it compare to the above criteria?

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Getting to Yes Summary Getting to Yes Guide Part 2: Principled Negotiation | Element 1: Separate Emotions from Issues

In a negotiation, you may be dealing with an institution, company, or organization, but besides the entity, you’re dealing with human beings who have different backgrounds, values, biases, emotions, and communication styles.

The human aspect can be both a plus and a minus in negotiations. People misunderstand and misinterpret things, which can reinforce the other side’s misgivings or spark negative reactions. On the other hand, a good working relationship can help negotiations go smoothly. Also, people’s desire to be liked and respected may make them more considerate.

In any case, handling people sensitively and respectfully is a prerequisite for successful negotiation. Continually ask yourself whether you’re giving enough consideration to human issues.

Substance Versus Relationship

Negotiators are always dealing with two issues: the substance of the negotiations and the relationship between the two sides. Both issues are important. For instance, a store owner wants to make a profit on a sale (substance), but also create a return customer by sending her away happy the first time (relationship). If he overcharges, he may make a profit, but he’ll damage his...

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Getting to Yes Summary Getting to Yes Guide Element 2: Focus on Interests

In standard negotiations, the focus is on coming up with a compromise on conflicting positions, for instance splitting the difference between a union’s pay request and a company’s smaller offer. Such negotiations over firm positions often reach an impasse.

But underlying each side’s position are interests — the reasons for the positions. Addressing interests rather than positions often opens the way to an agreement.

An example illustrates the difference. Two men get into an argument at a library because one wants to keep a window open while the other wants to close it; neither is willing to go halfway. The librarian asks each man for his reasons. One wants the window open to get fresh air; the other wants it closed to avoid a draft. So, the librarian opens a window in an adjoining room to provide air flow and avoid creating a draft. She resolved the conflict by focusing on the men’s underlying interests rather than their positions on opening or closing a particular window.

Interests Explain the Problem

In negotiations, you can’t come to an agreement without understanding both sides’ interests. **Interests involve people’s needs, desires, fears, and concerns — they...

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Shortform Exercise: Identifying Interests

In negotiations, both sides need to understand each others’ interests. Interests involve people’s needs, desires, and concerns — they drive people to take the positions they take.


Think of something that you and a friend or partner are always debating, such as what to do on the weekend. What is your partner’s usual position? What is yours?

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Getting to Yes Summary Getting to Yes Guide Element 3: Invent Options for Mutual Gain

A common challenge in negotiations arises when there doesn’t seem to be a way to split the pie that serves both sides. The choice seems to be having a winner and a loser, and neither side wants to lose. But the dilemma opens up the opportunity for creative options that expand the pie before dividing it. A creative solution can break an impasse and result in a better agreement.

But standard negotiation methods don’t often produce many options. The people on both sides don’t see a need for them. They believe they have the right answer, that their position is reasonable, and that it should be accepted. A suggestion to split the difference is as creative as they get. The resulting agreement doesn’t serve either party as well as it should.

Here are some additional obstacles to generating multiple options during negotiations:

  • Premature criticism: Your inner critic hinders your imagination. You also fear the other side’s reaction to a proposal — either dismissing it or taking it as a commitment. You fear jeopardizing your bargaining position.
  • Searching for the one best answer: People see their job as narrowing the options, not expanding them, which would make...

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Getting to Yes Summary Getting to Yes Guide Element 4: Insist on Objective Criteria

Standard negotiations are a battle of wills. For instance, with a labor contract, the prevailing side determines the level of pay increases and benefits, based on their view of what’s appropriate. The agreement won’t be efficiently arrived at and it won’t be civil because one side has to back down. It’s also unlikely to be a wise agreement (encompassing the interests of both sides).

A better alternative is to negotiate an agreement measured against objective standards, independent of the will of either side.

Why Use Objective Standards?

When you use objective standards, such as market value or average salaries, you’re basing the agreement on principle instead of succumbing to pressure tactics or threats to use an arbitrary standard chosen by the other side.

Principled negotiation using objective criteria is more likely to produce a fair and balanced agreement efficiently and civilly. Objectives standards support the three criteria for a successful negotiation:

  • Fairness: Objective standards relying on precedent, scientific merit, and community practices strengthen the agreement — it’s less vulnerable to attack and both sides are likely to ensure smooth...

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Shortform Exercise: FInding an Objective Standard

The authors argue that agreements should be based on objective standards independent of either side, such as market values. Use these questions to determine the objective standards in your own negotiations.


Think of a situation where you negotiated with someone over the price of something. What was the rationale behind the price you ended up with? Was it fair?

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Getting to Yes Summary Getting to Yes Guide Part 3: Practical Application

(Shortform note: In the final two parts of the book, the authors answer questions about principled negotiation. Because some answers introduce new material or are repetitive, we’ve reorganized the information into sections on Practical Application (Procedures, Tactics), and Challenges to make it easier to grasp.)

Procedures

Informal negotiations with family and friends about such things as where to eat or spend a vacation tend to be impromptu. However, formal negotiations between companies and employees, or involving governments, and other entities require planning. Here are some logistics and procedural considerations.

Deciding Where to Meet

Deciding where to meet for negotiations will depend on both needs and circumstances. Think about where the parties would be most comfortable and productive.

  • Seclusion may be important if there’s a significant chance of interruptions and distractions.
  • If the other side’s chief negotiator relies heavily on support staff and documentation, you may want to meet in his or her offices. Meeting in the other side’s offices also gives you the option of walking away if necessary.
  • If there are equipment needs such as...

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Shortform Exercise: Dealing With Pressure Tactics

Hardball negotiators use an array of strong-arm tactics to get you to accept their position, including lies, pressure tactics, and psychological tricks.


Think of some pressure tactics someone used in a negotiation with you, for instance threats or refusing to budge. How did they affect the negotiation?

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Getting to Yes Summary Getting to Yes Guide Part 4: Challenges in Negotiations

Two types of challenges that can stymie principled negotiation are:

  • Dealing with the human element when you can’t separate people and their emotions from the substance because people are the problem.
  • Negotiating successfully when there’s a power imbalance — when the other side is more powerful than you are.

Handling Human Problems

People’s defensive or reactionary behavior is often a reason that negotiations fail. Dealing with the human element of how you’re treating the other side and how the people are reacting is critical to success. Whether you’re focusing on a specific human issue, or people are just one concern of negotiation, follow these guidelines:

  • Build a good working relationship that’s separate from the substance of the negotiations. A good relationship makes it easier to get a good outcome and good outcomes make a good relationship even better. But don’t entangle the relationship with substance. For instance, don’t make concessions in order to save the relationship and don’t try to force a concession by threatening the relationship, for instance by saying something like, “If you really cared, you’d accept the proposal.”
  • ...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Introduction
  • Exercise: Review Your Negotiations
  • Part 1: Problems With Traditional Negotiation
  • Exercise: Three Criteria
  • Part 2: Principled Negotiation | Element 1: Separate Emotions from Issues
  • Element 2: Focus on Interests
  • Exercise: Identifying Interests
  • Element 3: Invent Options for Mutual Gain
  • Element 4: Insist on Objective Criteria
  • Exercise: FInding an Objective Standard
  • Part 3: Practical Application
  • Exercise: Dealing With Pressure Tactics
  • Part 4: Challenges in Negotiations