Favourite Books: Visiting Fisher and Ury’s _Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In_

Since I did not study Business (but the Arts) in university, I find it interesting to read and think about some of the classic texts that business majors (or MBA students) have read, as a part of their training. Often there are tremendous insights to be mined for my work, as a freelancer.

One such study, Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton’s Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Revised Edition, 2011) makes a very powerful case on how to negotiate agreement well with another party or parties, however different and dissenting the two or more groups in negotiation may be.

The authors are pillars of the Harvard Negotiation Project, which has worked together in print and in world-wise settings of negotiation, in state and industry, since 1977. The project is based on a method of “principled negotiation,” that aims to “decide issues on their merits rather than through a haggling process focused on what each side says it will and won’t do” (xxviii).

One of the authors’ foundational arguments in this book is that behind opposed positions are shared and compatible interests, and not only conflicting and different ones. A shopkeeper may haggle with a customer over the cost of an antique bowl, until both parties are blue-in-the-face and further from agreement than when they started. Participants’ egos become identified with such positions, until both parties are at an impasse and have lost all amity (not to mention time and energy).

Two men in a library quarrel over whether or not to open a window (their positions are yay/nay). “They bicker back and forth about how much to leave it open: a crack, halfway, three-quarters of the way. No solution satisfies them both. . .

Enter the librarian. She asks one why he wants the window open [his interest]: ‘To get some fresh air.’ She asks the other why he wants it closed [his interest]: ‘To avoid the draft.’ After thinking a minute, she opens wide a window in the next room, bringing in fresh air without a draft” (42). Here the librarian has effectively negotiated a settlement that meets both men’s interests, and has done so through a principled weighing and considering of each side’s interests. She has simultaneously sidestepped their polarized positions.

Fisher and Ury argue that focusing on both parties’ interests helps to negotiate agreement, because for every interest there are usually several possible positions that could satisfy it.

And just because we are opposed to another person’s position does not mean that we are opposed to their interests.

Creative negotiation can “invent options for mutual gain” out of those shared interests.

Often there are enough shared interests for two parties to accommodate each other in the interest of a good relationship.

Fisher and Ury suggest that one should identify one’s interests by asking oneself why one wants the entity or process under discussion, and then rank those interests in order of priority.

When one talks about interests with a negotiating party (whom they refer to as a”partner”), the communication should share information that leads to making better-informed decisions.

In interest-based negotiation, both parties look forward for a purpose (instead of looking backward for a cause that returns to positional bargaining, where power is less likely to be shared). Interest-based discussion involves sharing information, so that each party understands the other’s interests.

Negotiators who are committed and pushing for their interests can sometimes “stimulate each other’s creativity to devise solutions they can both agree with.”

Certainly, interest-based negotiation is not a new development. For instance, philosopher and theorist Jacques Derrida (and the Yale Deconstructionists in the US) were arguing about binaries and differences in the 1970s and ‘80s, contemporaneous with the Harvard Negotiation Project (beginning in the late 1970s). But theory changes far faster than the “real” world does, particularly when vexed and complex relationships are the cradle of the conversation. How radically could principled negotiation now change the political debate between Palestinians and Israelis; the Ukraine and Russia; and in other Middle Eastern and African countries, to name but a few.  But the longer positional bargaining, grandstanding and threatening occur, the more time, energy and distance is lost (not to mention blood shed), making principled negotiation harder than ever to accomplish.

I’ll be thinking about and blogging on Getting to Yes for some weeks in the future. You may wonder why you or I should read (and blog on) this book now? Whether we realize it or not, negotiation is a part of our everyday lives. Two children arguing over how to share a single orange; two former spouses debate the custody of their children (or even pets) as they negotiate a divorce; farmers and a national oil company in Iraq argue over the possession and use of land, after the fall of Saddam Hussein: these are all legitimate scenes for negotiation.

. . . As I know from participating in social media forums, freelance service providers and his or her prospects may not agree on terms such as the scope of a project (either before or after a contract is signed), or the time or fee involved, amongst other factors. Lasting relationships that I seek with my prospects grow from shared outcomes and are far more likely to be reached by interest based negotiation.

Fisher and Ury consistently argue that it’s possible to negotiate in a way “that avoids your having to choose between the satisfactions of getting what you deserve and of being decent. You can have both” (150).

In whatever context you find yourself negotiating, these days, my call-to-action is for you to consider how to discuss interests that can yield a creative and principled win-win resolution, instead of retreating to firmly entrenched and barren positions.

To be continued . . . .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.