Getting to Yes

If I was given the challenge of having to pick only one book to put in my management library, it would be Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.  Written my Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project, and first published in 1981, it has been a national bestseller with numerous re-prints and an update in 1991.

The stated mission of The Harvard Negotiation Project is “to improve the theory and practice of conflict resolution and negotiation by working on real world conflict intervention, theory building, education and training, and writing and disseminating new ideas”.   Its application spans personal, organizational and international interactions.

The very practical steps described in the book embody ‘principled negotiation’ which is based on five propositions

  • “Separate the people from the problem.”
  • “Focus on interests, not positions.”
  • “Invent options for mutual gain.”
  • “Insist on using objective criteria.”

While these principles may seem intuitive, it is easy for managers to focus otherwise; for example:

  • It is easy to confuse the substantive issues of the problem with the people ; a statement such as ‘that meeting didn’t go so well’ or ‘we’re way over budget’ may be intended simply to identify a problem, but is likely to be heard as a personal attack.”
  • It is easy to get stuck in positions; in discussion about policy regarding whether staff should be able to work flexible hours, for example, the positions of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are each based on values, experience, and concerns about how the policy may be applied.  Taking steps to understand the interest of each position brings more information to everyone’s attention.
  • It is easy to get stuck in the feeling that the decision has to end up in an either/or situation; eg, flexible hours or no flexible hours.  Looking for additional options for mutual gain may reveal possibilities that neither party had thought of before.
  • It is easy to consider the only resolution to negotiation as accepting one option or another based on what one feels able to accept.  Using objective criteria such as external standards such as employment law or Human Resource best practices, or what peer organizations are doing  help both parties  identify criteria on which they agree a decision can be based.

In addition to guiding your way to resolving conflict, this method of negotiation helps to surface pertinent information about the issue, often leading to better decisions.  The book also has sections on situations where you feel the other side has more power or is not negotiating fairly.

For additional assistance in applying the principled negotiation method review the 5 Key Practices section in Manager’s Corner for an exercise called 360° Perspectives.