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Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In


Most mediation trainers will reference this groundbreaking book to their students, as it has shaped how ADR professionals have approached their work since its publication in 1977. The Harvard Program on Negotiation still uses its tenets as the foundation for teaching the essential skills required to resolve personal, community and commercial conflicts. One idea that propelled its original authors, Fisher and Ury, to the ADR hall of fame is that we need to be “soft on people” yet “hard on the problem”. Their talent as authors lies in conveying their subject clearly, simply, and effectively.

In the introduction, the authors quote the poet Wallace Steven: “After the final no there comes a yes and on that yes the future world depends.” The well-organized chapters which follow detail the golden path to reaching that elusive yes. Ury and Fisher explain the (now familiar) concepts of focusing on interests rather than positions, separating the person from the problem, inventing options for mutual gain, using objective criteria, dealing with power imbalances, ‘taming’ hard bargainers, and dealing with stonewalling.

While I was doing my mediation training, I dipped into this book repeatedly to really understand the wisdom from which the classic mediation process originates. As an example, developing a clear BATNA is an art and a special skill; the book explains how it is better than having a bottom-line approach. Another example: the book stresses the importance of feelings, a very tricky element in any human interaction. Emotion can be unpredictable, irrational, deeply hidden, and a real block to making progress. A good mediator had better make themselves adept on how to bring it out, recognize it, respect it, and use it to create empathy on both sides. The book describes how to pay attention to “core” concerns, how to consider the role of identity, and how to acknowledge feelings as a legitimate part of the process. Parties must be allowed to let off steam, and everyone present must listen actively and acknowledge what the others are trying to say.

This book is a dispute resolution classic. Its ideas around human psychology can help in every aspect of life – from managing a hormonal teenager to negotiating with a hardball union leader.

It is a must for every mediator’s library.

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