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Getting To Yes

Authors: Roger Fisher and William Ury
Copyright: ©1981
Publishers: Penguin Books Ltd. New York, N.Y
Book Review by: Cathy Bernatt

Getting To Yes

Most people when they think about negotiations imagine a battle of positions between two parties. The outcome is most often win/lose. The winner that prevails is usually adept at intimidation and threats and uses positional power to put them one up on their opponent. It becomes a battle of psychological chess. Usually the loser walks away feeling they have not gotten a fair deal. This method of negotiation does little to improve or enhance long-term business, personal, and diplomatic relationships. Rather it creates an atmosphere of distrust. Often, it also ends up in face saving where the whole process becomes stuck with no room to move forward without one party getting hurt.

Roger Fry and William Ury, in Getting To Yes suggest a win-win approach to negotiations that leaves all parties satisfied. From the outset, each party's goals, objectives and hopes should be clear. The negotiation is not a process of giving in to one another but rather a more holistic approach at deeply understanding one another's interests. Interests are defined as needs, desires, concerns and fears. In the win-lose scenario above, each party is solely interested in his/her own needs, desires and concerns and would never where possible make evident any of their fears. In an honest exploration of one another interests, we will find both shared and conflicting ones. Focusing on the shared ones is the key for synergistic solutions that can lead to wise win-win agreements. A wise agreement is one, "...which meets the legitimate interests of each side to the extent possible, resolves conflicting interests fairly, is durable, and takes community interests into account." (p. 4). Fry and Ury suggest that we should communicate interests up front and honestly, being specific and concrete. We should also create an empathetic tone so that both parties are able to step into each other's shoes and see the macro picture. This does not mean being soft however. One should be hard and aggressive on their interests and attack the problem, never the people.

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I have a father who is a master positional negotiator. Fortunately and unfortunately, I got first-hand experience watching him in action from early childhood. Both his stature, tone of voice and strategic skills of intimidation were often formidable. It was disturbingly fascinating how he could "kill" the other side with his words, mental games and use of fear. Although he won most of the negotiations he entered, I felt bad for the other side. This was exacerbated by his pride in one-upping the other side. I have watched my father make "best friends" into enemies using this same approach. It has saddened me deeply and caused me to reflect deeply on the meaning of both communication, relationships and negotiation. When I read Getting To Yes, it was very exciting, as I had grown up very sensitive to feeling other people and to wanting to find mutually satisfactory solutions to problems. However, at times I have been guilty of using the win-lose approach my father modeled so well without even being conscious of it.

Nine years ago, when traveling in Indonesia with a very close friend, I entered into a negotiation to rent a driver and van for one week. We had been staying at this families' B & B and had developed a friendly, warm relationship. As the negotiation progressed, my friend stood watching. I had entered the win-lose frame of mind unconsciously and was trying to get him down, down, down in price. My friend interrupted the process and asked to speak to me privately. She was furious. What are you doing Cathy. Your whole attitude is quite aggressive and you are arguing a matter of $50, which for the two of us is nothing, but to this family means half a year's income. I have never seen you like this and frankly it is disgusting me. Wow, I was deeply humbled in that moment and took pause to think about how I managed to enter and get caught in that mental frame without even being conscious of it. I went back and finished the negotiation with an apology and an agreement that left both the family and us satisfied and came away much more sensitive to both the process of communication, relationships and negotiation. My end goal in life is to continue to grow and learn and become the best human I can in this lifetime. The application and practice of principled negotiation presented in Getting to Yes is one more positive step in that process.

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