Getting to Yes


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Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
Author Roger Fisher, William Ury (and William Paton in the 2nd Edition)
Country USA
Language English
Genre(s) Business, Negotiation
Media Type Print (hardback and paperback)
ISBN 0 14 01.5735 2

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This classic book on negotiation theory, first published in 1981, is a product of the Harvard Negotiation Project. It espouses a specific negotiation method that aims for Win-Win agreements.


I The problem

  1. Don't bargain over positions

II The method

  1. Separate the people from the problem
  2. Focus on interests, not positions
  3. Invent options for mutual gain
  4. Insist on using objective criteria

III Yes, but...

  1. What if they are more powerful?
  2. What if they won't play?
  3. What is they use dirty tricks?

IV In conclusion

V Ten questions people ask about Getting to Yes

The Arguments in Detail

I The Problem

The authors argue that the major problem in many negotiations is that people assume positions that are either Hard or Soft. They suggest that, rather than being either hard on the people and the problem, or soft on people and problem, it is possible to be soft on the people and hard on the problem. They call this approach Principled negotiation or Negotiation on its merits.

II The Method

They suggest the following approach:

Separate the people from the problem

The purpose of this step is to recognise that emotions and egos can become entangled with the problem in negotiations, and that this will adversely affect the ability to see the others position clearly. This results in adversarial rather than cooperative interactions. This includes:

  • Clarifying perceptions
  • Recognizing and legitimising emotions
  • Communicating clearly (c.f. Stephen Covey's Listen first to understand, then speak to be understood)
Focus on interests, not positions

In this step there is exploration of the true interests underlying the positions of each side, rather than a focus on the superficial positions with which parties come to the table. This may obscure what the parties really want.

  • Ask questions to explore interests
  • Talk about your own interests
Generate options for mutual gain

In this step time is for parties to set aside time together to generate alternative candidate solutions. The idea is that parties contribute together creatively to generate possibilities for mutual gain i.e. a Win-Win agreement.

  • Brainstorming
  • Broadening options
  • Looking for mutual gain
  • Make their decision easy
Insist on using objective criteria

The final step is to use mutually agreed and objective criteria for evaluating the candidate solutions. During this stage they encourage openness and surrender to principle not pressure.

  • Fair standards
  • Fair procedures

III Yes But...

What if they are more powerful?

In these circumstances they suggest that any negotiation should aim to:

  1. Protect you against an agreement you should reject: they recommend that you should prepare a BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) prior to the negotiation i.e. a Red Line which will not be crossed
  2. Make the most of your assets: they recommend that the better your BATNA the greater your power
What if they won't play?

They suggest 3 approaches (to encourage and coach them to use Principled Negotiation too):

  1. You should use principled negotiation to encourage them to do the same
  2. If they continue to attack using positional bargaining, refuse to retaliate and redirect their attacks on the problem. They term this Negotional Jujitsu after the oriental martial art in which the attackers blows are deflected.
  3. Involve a third party to fuse the views of the opposing parties, which they term a One Text Procedure.
What if they use dirty tricks?

They give examples of dirty tricks that can be used in negotiation, such as lies, psychological abuse and pressure tactics. They describe the 2 common responses seen, either of appeasement or reciprocal dirty tricks.

Instead they recommend a 3-pronged approach:

  1. Recognition of the trick being played (so that you can ignore it)
  2. Drawing attention to the trick being played
  3. Negotiation about the negotiation itself i.e. about the rules with which the negotiation will be conducted

V In Conclusion