Book Review - "Getting to Yes"

Our first book review "Getting to Yes - Negotiating agreement without giving in"

We thought it would be helpful to share some books that have helped us learn the skills we have developed as specialist mediators. In our first book review we look at

Getting to Yes – Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In - by Roger Fisher and William Ury

This was first published in 1981. The title has become a classic read for anyone interested in learning negotiation skills. The four-point steps which define the Fisher and Ury method explain how we all too often become embroiled in an unnecessary and embittered tussle over entrenched positions. Many deals have collapsed because the participants could not see the forest for the trees. In other words, the participants failed to see the bigger picture. The participants focused too much on winning instead of making a mutually profitable deal.

The Method in stages

The first two stages outlined by the authors encourage us to separate the people from the problem. This is achieved by focusing on interests and not on our mutual positions. We are then encouraged to invent options for mutual gain.

1. Separate the People from the Problem - We can’t deal with a problem when people misunderstand each other and emotions run rampant. We all perceive our world differently. As such, we often take different, if not opposing, viewpoints when handling a problem or dispute with another person. In so doing, we often give little or any regard to the other person’s perspective. This is a narrow approach to problem-solving and is often a recipe for conflict and disaster.

2. Focus on Interests, Not Positions - The issue here can be summed up by saying that we tend to become fixated on our respective positions. We attempt to find agreement on a particular position, which rarely works. The positions often directly result in conflict between each other’s emotional basis, which forms the foundation for our respective positions.

Rather, what we need to understand and determine the real interests forming the basis of the positions of both sides. These fundamental issues are our real interests that can be both conflicting and compatible. The question we usually ask is What do you want? The more important question that we fail to ask instead is Why do you want this? There is a purpose behind every position. Without knowing the real motivating purpose or reason, it then becomes almost impossible to identify or appreciate the problem that actually needs to be addressed.

3. Mutual Options for Mutual Gain - Fisher and Ury point out that even though people succeed in diagnosing the problem, there’s still a tendency to take the view that our answer alone is the correct response. It is not a natural tendency to be creative in developing alternatives to effectively solve the dispute. The authors state that there are four obstacles that we must first overcome:

·    Premature judgment

·    Searching for the single answer

·    The assumption of the fixed pie

·     Thinking that solving their problem is their problem

Fisher and Ury suggest that we should first invent our options. We should then decide on the best mutual course of action after both sides have brainstormed the problem together.


4. Insist on Using Objective Criteria - In the final phase, Fisher and Ury again stress that we must avoid the pitfall of getting into a battle of wills. Instead, the authors say that we should negotiate on the basis of using objective criteria. Objective criteria could be:

·    Market value

·    Replacement cost

·    Industry standards

·    Precedent

·    Reciprocity

·    Effectiveness

·    or any applicable principle which is a true reflection of what is fair and reasonable.

Remember, don’t be shy about seeking out the advice of experts.

 The authors say there are three basic points to remember:

·    Frame each issue as a mutual search for objective criteria.

·    Be both reasonable and open to reason as to which standards should be used and how they should be applied.

·     Never bend to pressure, only to principle.

Even before considering the terms to an agreement, it is often better to first agree on the particular objective criteria or standards that should be applied.


We all want to negotiate the best possible deal. However, we must remember there is often more at stake than our personal interests and egos. We can solve more problems if we understand the underlying interests. In addition, we can create durable relationships if we don’t let ourselves work at cross purposes in finding mutually creative and beneficial solutions.


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