Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Book: Getting to yes: negotiating agreement without giving in

This book presents a technique developed at the Harvard Negotiation Project, in alignment with the Harvard Law School. The technique is called "principled negotiation". The technique can be broken down into four key tenets, as follows:

  • Separate the people from the problem
  • Focus on interests not positions
  • Invent options for mutual gain
  • Insist on using objective criteria

The book itself is divided into five sections. The first section dismantles and analyzes the traditional style of negotiation whereby each party takes a position and makes a stand on that basis; the negotiation goes back and forth until the positions are shifted enough so as they are closely matched. The author spends this first section setting the scene by saying that this style of negotiation is potentially dangerous - "don't bargain over positions".

The next section of the book deals with the method of principled negotiation in detail, and the four tenants, as listed above. This section goes into each tenant in depth, looking at the reasoning for this approach at a psychological level.

The third section addresses what to do in the situation where negotiations are complex or difficult. Introduces the concepts of BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement) and "Negotiation Jiujitsu" - using the energy of the other sides attack to develop constructive negotiation. It also looks at what to do if the other side is using "dirty tricks" (for example - extreme commitment, deliberate deception, etc). This section also covers an approach called the "one-text procedure", whereby a third party is enabled to step in and broker an agreement. Worth noting that this technique is more-or-less the same as the requirements gathering process that a seasoned engineering consultant would go through with a client in order to develop a proposed solution that fits a specific business problem. The situation where negotiation procedure itself is negotiated is examined - doing this is encouraged, if for example, the other side is using tricky tactics. This is probably the most useful section of the book as it's more-or-less about putting the theory into practice.

The fourth section is the conclusion - it's only a few pages long. Covers the fact that most of what is presented is understood by many people already, that the content of the book is only useful if put into practice and that negotiation isn't about "winning" but about mutual agreement.

The final section deals with "ten questions people ask about 'getting to yes'". This section is itself broken into four sections; questions about fairness and "principled" negotiation, questions about dealing with people, practical questions, questions about power.

Useful quotes:


"If you want someone to understand your reasoning, give your interests and reasoning first and your conclusions and proposals later".

"Where disagreement persists, seek second order agreements - agreement on where you disagree".

"It will be easier to reform the negotiation process than it will be to reform those with whom you are dealing. Don't be diverted from the negotiation by the urge to teach them a lesson".

"A clever strategy cannot make up for lack of preparation. If you formulate a step-by-step strategy that is sure to knock their socks off, you will run into trouble when they come to the negotiation wearing sandals".

Title: Getting to yes: negotiating agreement without giving in
Author: Roger Fisher, William Ury and (for second edition) Bruce Patton
Tags: Business, Negotiation, Analysis

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