Introduction to Getting to Yes and the Negotiation Problem

Let’s face it: we are always negotiating, whether it’s persuading our kids to take out the trash, asking our boss for a raise, convincing a used-car dealer that the jalopy is not worth the asking price, or resolving a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

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The book, Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton, presents an easy to follow approach—developed at the Harvard Negotiation Project—for reaching mutually acceptable agreements in almost any sort of conflict.

In this text, the authors begin their discussion by identifying the Negotiation Problem, describing the three criteria in which every negotiation should be judged and distinguishing between “positional bargaining” and “principled negotiations on the merits.” Next, the authors describe their four principles for effective negotiation and then further illustrate three common negotiation obstacles and the techniques to overcome these potential resolution impediments.

In this eight part series, I will review this classic text on conflict resolution and provide a downloadable mind map outline, which can be used at all mediations in which you participate.

The goal of mediation should be to produce a wise and efficient agreement wherein the parties’ conflicting interests are resolved fairly, and the parties’ legitimate needs are met. Under the best of circumstances, the agreement should improve the parties’ relationship rather than leave the parties feeling more damaged than before they began the process.

Avoid Positional Bargaining

Parties to a negotiation are discouraged from using “positional bargaining” techniques to achieve their mediation goals. This method of negotiation is fraught with a myriad of problems that leave the parties with an unwise and inefficient agreement and a damaged relationship that may be beyond repair. The agreement is unwise because parties tend to negotiate from “locked-in,” “committed” positions and tend to identify their egos with their positions. Once this occurs, less attention is paid to the underlying concerns of the parties and, often times, the only way to resolve the case is to mechanically split the difference rather than craft a creative solution.

These negation techniques are also inefficient since most parties start from an extreme position and stubbornly hold on to it. Each party may make small concessions as necessary; yet, neither side sees any incentive to move quickly. This slows down the process and leads to a much higher chance of either party walking out with no resolution.

Negotiating with positional bargaining methods also increases the chance of endangering relationships. What should be viewed as an opportunity to resolve conflicts amicably ends up being a contest of wills, with each side drawing lines in the sand. If one party bends to the other’s will, the compromising party leaves the negotiation table with resentment and anger.

The Better Approach – Principal Negotiation

There are four basic points in resolving conflicts utilizing principled negotiation techniques focused on the merits of a dispute.

  1. First, a skilled negotiator will separate the people from the problems and will learn to work side-by-side with the other side in attacking the problem rather than each other.
  2. Second, the parties should focus on their interests and not on any one particular position.
  3. Third, it is critically important to set aside designated time to think about solutions and invent options that provide for mutual gain. Don’t decide under pressure since the lack of time may inhibit creativity.
  4. And finally, insist that the result be based on some objective criteria or standard such as an expert opinion or market value.

In order for principled negotiations to work, each advocate must analyze the situation by diagnosing the problem, gathering information, organizing thoughts and thinking about solutions. A carefully executed plan must be developed before negotiations begin. For instance, think about the perfect setting to resolve a case, who should be present at the mediation, and any “people problems” that may get in the way of resolving a case. And finally, remember that communication is the key – listen to and understand the other side’s interests and begin thinking about how the problem can be attacked creatively.

In our next article, we will explore the authors’ techniques of separating the people from the problem.

Click here to download a mind map summary of Chapter 1, Getting to Yes.

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