An abbreviation of the book “Getting to Yes — Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” by Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project.

Roland Pihlakas, 6. December 2000


This book is written on the subject of how to use a constructive and empathetic approach towards your opponents in the process of negotiations, resulting in a better outcome for all parties involved.

The main focus-points of this book are:

  • Understanding the importance of unearthing your opponents’ true motives and needs.
  • Presenting your own problems accurately as well as understanding the other parties’ problems and finding real solutions (as opposed to finding compromises) instead of holding fast to your fixed stances.
  • Cultivating appropriate expression of respect and sympathy towards one’s opponents.

They describe how to negotiate successfully based on principles, not just by raw willpower. The aforementioned approaches are unfortunately not widely used or understood in our general day-to-day interactions.

Hereby I will share some of the main points of this book:

  • Do not become fixated on your standpoints (the need to differentiate between one’s true needs and fixed opinions about how to meet them).
  • All negotiations should:
     — Lead to wise decisions.
     — Be time-effective.
     — Refrain from becoming detrimental to relationships.

The problems people encounter:

  • It is fairly common that negotiators get fixated on their own viewpoints, thus attaching their egos to their positions and therefore becoming rigid in their stances.
  • People start persuading their opponents that their approach is “right”.
  • “My way or the highway”.

The better principles:

  • Separate the problem from the person.
  • Focus on interests, not stances.
  • Create several solutions before deciding on the course of action.
  • Ensure that the result follows some objective, fixed standard.
  • All parties should be considered to be problem-solvers.
  • Be acquiescent and friendly with your opponents, but work diligently on the problem itself.
  • Search for ways for both parties to succeed / benefit.
  • Do not corner your opponent, leaving him no other chance but to become offensive and rejective of your views.
  • When the opponent has a bad impression of you, surprise them by acting contrary to their held beliefs.
  • Be careful to notice the details, that you may consider irrelevant or something you would be willing to yield on, but your opponent finds to be crucially important.
  • Let your opponent be the co-creator of the solution, do not press your own preformulated ideas on them (even if your solution is genius). Let them feel that they have participated in the process.
  • Do not subject your opponents to your will, so that they end up feeling defeated. Be careful to help them feel good about themselves, retaining their (self)-impression intact.
  • Help your opponents describe and express their emotions, do the same about your own emotions. This releases tension. Use active listening to encourage the opponent, do not interrupt — let your opponents spill it all out without becoming reactive yourself.
  • Employ symbolic moves.
  • Using active listening makes your opponent feel that this is not simply a routine to be followed, that you are genuinely interested in their viewpoints.
  • When your stance differs from your opponents, do not begin by describing yours, it will lead to their perception of not being understood, repeated efforts to make you understand their views, and you will not be heard. Instead, show them that you have understood their views, describe their views in a positive way from their perspective as best you can and only then proceed to explaining your own approach.
  • (Expressing) comprehension does not mean compliance.
  • Keep the number of participants to the minimum, meet in private, you don’t need an audience to your negotiations. The actual decisions should be made in discrete settings, if need be, the “battle” can later be recreated for public purposes.
  • Do not start name-calling or pointing out your opponents faults. Concentrate on yourself, on what you are feeling, what has happened to you, speak only for yourself. For if you imply something about your opponent that they do not agree with (for they will have their own views, arguments, and excuses on the matter) then you risk making them angry or indifferent towards you, and you will not be heard. Do not force your opponent to become defensive.
  • Skipping it is sometimes better — think before you speak, speak only of what is necessary.
  • Become more acquainted with your opponent, meet informally, get to know their hobbies and interests.
  • Sit on the same side of the table with your opponent, both physically and mentally.
  • Accentuate commonalities (“we both are lawyers, negotiatiors”, etc).
  • Focus on interests instead of stances.
  • A solution may emerge, where both parties give up their positions without compromising their actual interests.
  • Opposing stances do not automatically imply opposing interests. The goal of your opponent is not to take away what you need or do what you would not want them to do.
  • Explain your interests.
  • When inquiring about the motives of your opponents, be careful to refrain from a judgemental approach. Make clear that you only wish to understand their needs, hopes, fears and dreams better.
  • People will listen to you better, when they feel you have truly heard and understood them.
  • Inquire deeper, if there are still other important interests that your opponent has forgotten to mention.
  • Present your problem first, then follow with possible solutions. If you begin by stating your requirements and then start backing them up with your needs, you will not be heard because your opponent is already fixating on their own counter-arguments to your requirements.
  • People tend to compare themselves with others, to seek revenge for previous wrongs instead of concentrating on simply and honestly representing their interests. Do not be stuck in the past — look forward.
  • By treating your opponent amiably and supportively, yet attacking the problem itself ferociously, you will create a certain quality of cognitive dissonance in your opponent, that they will feel they need to overcome.
  • People tend to fixate on decreasing differences in approaches instead of finding novel ways to solve things. This happens because they fear that brainstorming and thinking up new approaches will elongate and complicate the whole negotiation process.
  • An effective way to brainstorm for new solutions would be to create an informal, small-numbered group of participants and place them in an unusual setting to invoke creativity. Using a supervisor (and not a judge) is advisable.
  • If you are not able to reach an agreement, state your motives and search for the standard or traditional solution for these specific kind of problems together. Use objective criteria.
  • Focus on principles, not competing will-powers.
  • Try to find out how your opponent formulated their stances / views in the first place.
  • When possible, use your opponents own criteria for evaluating the proposed solutions, it will be harder for them to negate, yet they can not accuse you of trying to trick them by finding some clever approach for judgement.
  • Do not fear to drop below the “allowed minimum”. Be resourceful, not rigid — you can compensate dropping some qualities by adding new alternate ones.
  • When you know of a better alternative deal than the one your opponent thinks you have, let them know.
  • When you or your opponent feels the need to become defensive, you will more likely lock your positions and the whole negotiation process will become a futile push and pull scenario.
  • When under attack, do not charge back. When your ideas are under attack, do not defend them. Do not become reactive, refrain from criticisms towards your opponent’s views.
  • Let your opponents describe what they consider to be the weaknesses of your proposals. Describe their proposed scenarios to the detail, so that they will see the absurdity of their own expectations.
  • Gently and considerately redirect an attack towards your person forward to the problem at hand.
  • Ask questions instead of giving statements.
  • One of the most effective approaches is to refrain from speaking too much. Ask a question and remain silent, listen to the answer. Do not continue with new questions and do not comment on your own stance any further.
  • Or use total silence. If being faced with an insufficient / unsatisfactory reply to your sincere question, remain silent. Your opponent will feel uncomfortable, the more so if they doubt their own views. They will try to fill the “silent gap” by providing new sentences, arguments, solutions, or suggestions.
  • When nothing else works, invite an independent party to help the negotiation process along.
  • Never rush into the final decision. Take a few days to think things through and make the final agreement on the next meeting. You may excuse yourself with the need to discuss the matter with others. This helps to abstain from ending up being too compliant and lenient.
  • When facing below the belt tactics, address it directly, but again, separate the person from the problem.
  • When your opponent refuses to negotiate, try to find out the motives behind it.


The aforementioned points describe how to negotiate successfully based on principles, understanding, expression, and creativity, not just by raw willpower. This enables discovering and achieving win-win agreements.

“Getting to Yes” stresses the importance of separating interests, issues and positions. Though the positions taken by disagreeing parties are often incompatible, the underlying interests that drive these positions are often potentially compatible.

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