POST #006



…and here’s why

Getting to yes — negotiating agreement without giving in” by Roger Fisher, William Ury and (for the second edition) Bruce Patton.

We negotiate all the time — so why are we not brilliant at it?

In my previous roles focused on partnerships, I always relied on developing mutual wins — otherwise, the relationships would be short ones! I’ve found however, my negotiation skills in partner deals have often been more productive than negotiating the TV channel with my husband, or a pay rise with my employer. Roger, William and Bruce help you identify the skills and processes you use in your productive negotiations, and lay these common sense principles and experiences out as a “useful framework for thinking and acting”. Talk about #processporn!

It’s an easy read (and a quick one also), but it packs a punch!

And guess what, if the person your negotiating with has read the book and implements the principles — you’ll also be better off!

Getting to yes teaches you how to better understand yourself, better understand others, and allow you to both win. As they explain it, it’s about winning the important game — so you can have the satisfaction of getting what you deserve and being decent!

So what’s the game?
The meta-game, a game about the game: a better process for dealing with your differences — i.e. a better way to negotiate.

Each move you make within a negotiation also helps structure the rules of the game. The process they suggest is called principled negotiation or negotiation on the merits, and was developed by the Harvard Negotiation Project. Essentially negotiations can be fairly judged by whether:

1. They produce a wise agreement (if agreement is possible);
2. They’re efficient; and
3. They improve or at least do not damage the relationship between the parties.

The trick is to avoid positional bargaining; be firm but flexible; and be hard on merits, but soft on people, by:

– Focusing on interests, not positions;
– Inventing options for mutual gain; and
– Insisting on using objective criteria.

Focusing on interests, not positions

Positional bargaining
I consider myself  as someone with an open mind — I enjoy learning new things, and I try hard not to be so strict on opinions. As a result, I often find myself in the position of devil’s advocate. This isn’t simply to push others, but instead to push everyone’s thinking (including my own) and delve further into thought process, identifying exciting new opportunities.

The same goes for negotiation. With an open and inquisitive mind, you learn things, and sometimes your view will change and new opportunities will become known. As a result, it can be risky going into negotiations with a strong position held (e.g. “I will not agree unless I get X”)— you can end up not backing away from your position to save face (or ego), and you can lose out because of it. As the authors note, “…it is far better to know the terrain than to plan on taking one particular path through the woods”.

But doesn’t having a bottom line provide you with protection over making an agreement you shouldn’t?

The answer = BATNA!


It shouldn’t matter how powerful, wealthy or connected they are. Once you have identified your and their BATNA, and understand everyone’s interests and emotions, you can develop an effective strategy for negotiations. You can “dance with your partner” and not “try and trip them up”.

Understanding everyone’s interests helps you define the problem, and the causes for people taking specific positions. Each side has multiple interests, and these can include compatible interests (e.g. a tenant and landlord both want stability, a well-maintained home, and a good relationship with each other), as well as conflicting interests (e.g. one sister wants the orange for the meat; the other wants it for the rind: you could each receive 100% of what you are after).

Behind opposed positions lie these compatible and conflicting interests, and by asking why and why not (in a way to understand them rather than have them justify their position), you can better identify these interests, talk about them, and open the door to new mutually beneficial opportunities. In terms of identifying interests, the authors suggest to start by thinking about basic human needs, i.e.:

– Security
– Economic wellbeing
– A sense of belonging
– Recognition
– Control over one’s life

Understanding emotions is imperative — recognising how you feel, what’s producing these emotions and identifying how you want to feel. What about the other side? Understanding their emotions is not simply putting yourself in their shoes, but understanding “empathetically the power of their point of view” and feeling “the emotional force with which they believe in it”. Acknowledging these emotions as legitimate is a super powerful negotiation tactic as they will feel understood and will be in a better position to face the problem with you side-by-side.

Inventing options for mutual gain

There are a number of examples throughout the book illustrating the importance of being open to opportunities. A simple example is the one of two people in the library, one wanting the window open, and the other wanting the window closed. When the librarian identifies their respective interests (i.e. fresh air, and avoiding a draft), she opens the window in the adjoining room, letting fresh air in without a draft on the gentlemen. Seems simple right? As the authors describe, there are “four obstacles inhibiting the inventing of an abundance of options”:

1. Premature judgement
2. Searching for the single answer
3. The assumption of a fixed pie
4. Thinking “solving their problem is the problem”

Keeping this in mind, they provide a useful process for brainstorming sessions as well as four basic steps for inventing options. They suggest running these brainstorming sessions with your particular team, as well as with the other side where possible.


Insisting on using objective criteria

The explanation of this section is best provided verbatim: “The more you bring standards of fairness, efficiency, or scientific merit to bear on your particular problem, the more likely you are to produce a final package that is wise and fair. The more you and the other side refer to precedent and community practice, the greater your chance of benefiting from past experience. And an agreement consistent with precedent is less vulnerable to attack.” The authors remind you, when negotiating with objective criteria, to focus firmly, but flexibly; and:

– Frame each issue as a joint search for objective criteria
– Reason and be open to reason as to which standards are most appropriate and how they should be applied
– Never yield to pressure, only principle

But what if they won’t play?

Yes, sometimes the people you’re negotiating with stick their heals in and won’t budge from positional bargaining…. so what do you do?

You create a new game and continue to focusing on interests / merits, options and criteria… and you implement negotiation jujitsu.


You can also introduce a third party who knows how to mediate using the one-text mediation procedure. This simplifies the process of inventing options and deciding together. Keeping in mind the best mediator is someone who is more reliant on an agreement taking place, than on the particulars agreed on — for example, a manager may be more focused on his two colleagues reaching a collective decision and moving forwards in the business, rather than on the particulars of what decision is reached.

The authors also suggest looking at the personality / implementation style of the other side in your negotiations — mirroring them where possible to increase the psychological connection. They provide 10 indicators to help you adapt and get in step.



Ok, but what if they’re using dirty tricks?
This can happen a lot, with the use of tactics like deliberate deception (e.g. phoney facts, ambiguous authority, dubious intentions, less than full disclosure), psychological warfare (e.g. stressful situations, personal attacks, good-guy bad-guy routine, threats), and positional pressure tactics (e.g. refusal to negotiate, extreme demands, escalating demands, lock-in tactics, hardhearted partner, a calculated delay, take it or leave it). Roger, William and Bruce have a process for this too!

  1. Recognise the tactic
  2. Raise the issue explicitly (question the tactic, not their personal integrity)
  3. Question the tactic’s legitimacy and desirability — and negotiate over it by developing an agreed procedure for negotiation using the same process: i.e. focus on interests, not positions, invent options for mutual gain, and insist on using objective criteria
  4. Know your BATNAe.g. consider walking out on the grounds of them not being interested in working together to develop a fair negotiation; invite them to call you if you’re mistaken so you may continue; and explain until then, you can proceed with the court option.


I really enjoyed the focus of this book being around understanding. The authors make it very clear that “understanding is not agreeing” but it does provide an incredibly powerful tool to aid in building a strategy, communicating effectively, and working together to develop mutually beneficial agreements — i.e.producing wise agreements (if agreements are possible), efficiently, while improving or at least not damaging the relationships between the parties.

This is another book hitting the mark for Type-A personalities like me; however I think this one will be suited for all personality types! The second edition is a good one to purchase, as they have taken on all the questions they received from their first edition by Roger and William, and rather than re-writing the previous version, they have added the additional valuable content at the back — very helpful to those who have already read the first edition!

I’ve developed a reminder checklist taking into account the key items to consider under each step of the negotiation — see below. The book provides fantastic examples of each of these and talks about all the steps in more detail — make sure you give it a read!

Happy reading!


Once you’ve read “Getting to yes — negotiating agreement without giving in”, let me know what you think, and feel free to suggest great books for my next review!

William, I hope this post is on point 🙂

Thanks Casey Ellis for recommending this one!


 website plain postcard (1)