Book Notes by Abi Noda

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury

ISBN: 978-0143118756
READ: September 4, 2015

Critical Summary

Getting to Yes is the book you should've read five years ago. Whether you're asking for a raise, working on a business deal, or dealing with your landlord, if you're looking for more sophistication and success in your negotiation strategies than "start high", this is the book for you.

Getting to Yes is a complete framework for "principled negotiation"–two or more parties working together to best address their mutual interests with creative, objectively fair solutions. If you're unfamiliar with principled negotiation, it's the complete opposite of our conventional image of negotiation: two hard-heads pitted against one another in a battle of will and wit.

This book is not about mind-bending or psychological tricks–rather. Rather, it is a systematic process to ensure you make the most out of negotiation while achieving a durable outcome, beginning with how to know whether to negotiate at all and what to consider a positive outcome.

This book is definitely worth a quick review/re-read before any major negotiation. Below is my short field manual for reference.



Why positional bargaining is bad

All negotiation methods should be judged by three criteria:

  1. It should produce a wise agreement if agreement is possible
  2. It should be efficient
  3. It should improve or at least not damage the relationship between the parties

In typical negotiations, each side picks a position and argues for it, making concessions to reach a compromise. "Hard bargaining" fails all the criteria:

  1. It produces unwise outcomes. Parties are entrenched in their positions... making it less likely that any agreement will wisely reconcile the parties original interests. Energy is paid to positions vs. meeting the underlying concerns of the parties.

  2. It's inefficient. Bargaining over positions creates incentives which stall settlement, eg. starting with an extreme position, stubbornly holding to it, deceiving the other party, making small concessions only as necessary to keep the negotiation going.

  3. It endangers the relationship. Positional bargaining becomes a contest of will, resulting in anger and resentment when a side bends to the rigid will of the other while its own legitimate concerns go unaddressed. Bitter feelings are difficult to heal.

Many people recognize the costs of hard bargaining, particularly on the parties and their relationship, and so instead practice soft bargaining. Soft bargaining sees the other side as a friend rather than adversary and emphasizes the importance of building and maintaining a relationship over victory. In positional bargaining, hard bargaining dominates soft bargaining.

I use soft bargaining when I am being lazy or don't want to risk offending the other person by sounding like I am trying to "win".

Any negotiation primarily concerned with the relationship runs the risk of producing a sloppy agreement.

Principled Negotiation

The answer to the question of whether to use soft positional bargaining or hard is "neither". The Harvard Negotiation Project has been developing a method of negotiation explicitly designed to produce wise outcomes efficiently, called principled negotiation or negotiation on the merits.

It has four basic principles which are relevant from the time you begin to think about negotiating until the time either an agreement is reached or you decide to break off the effort. That period can be divided into three stages: analysis, planning, and discussion.

1. Separate the people from the problem.

Human beings are not computers, and emotions typically become entangled with the objective qualities of the problem. Taking positions makes this worse because peoples egos become tied to their positions. Making concessions "for the relationship" is equally problematic, because it can encourage and reward stubbornness, which leads to a poor outcome and resentment that ends up damaging the relationship.

Before working on a problem, the "people problem" should be disentangled from it and addressed on its own. The participants should come to see themselves as working side by side, attacking the problem, not each other.

2. Focus on interests, not positions.

Good agreements satisfy underlying interests, yet most often participants focus on stated positions. A negotiating position obscures what you really want, and compromising between positions is not likely to produce an agreement that will address the real need that led people to adopt those positions.

3. Invent multiple options looking for mutual gains before deciding what to do.

It is difficult to design optimal solutions while under pressure. Trying to decide in the presence of an adversary narrows your vision. Having a lot at stake inhibits creativity. So does searching for the one right solution. These constraints can be offset by setting a designated time within which to think up a wide range of possible solutions that advance shared interests and creatively reconcile differing interests.

Before trying for each an agreement, invent options for mutual gain.

4. Insist that the result be based on some objective standard.

When interests are directly opposed, a negotiator may be able to obtain a favorable result simply by being stubborn. You can counter such a negotiator by insisting that his single say-so is not enough and that the agreement must reflect some fair standard independent of the opinions of either side. Neither party need give into the other, bot can defer to a fair solution (eg. market value, expert opinion, law).

Separate the people from the problem

General tips:

The best way to deal with people problems is before they become people problems. Develop a good working relationship and get to know the other person informally. See yourselves as side-by-side partners in a search for a fair agreement advantageous to each. You can turn a face-to-face orientation to side-by-side by explicitly saying something like:

"Look, we're both businessman. Unless I try to satisfy your interests, we are hardly like to reach an agreement that satisfies mine, and vice versa. Let's look together at the problem of how to satisfy our collective interests."

Alternatively, you can start treating the negotiation as a side-by-side activity in your actions and make it desirable for them to join in. It helps to literally sit on the same side of a table with a notepad.

When problems do arise, deal with them by changing how you treat people – not by making concessions in negotiation.


Understanding the other side's thinking is not just about helping you solve your problem. it is the problem. Conflict lies in peoples heads, not in objective reality eg. both parties may agree that one lost the watch and the other found it, but still disagree over who should get it.

Put yourself in their shoes, don't interpret their intentions based on your fears, and never blame. Discuss each other's perceptions openly and explicitly, and look for ways to act inconsistently with the other side's perceptions (eg. acting as a partner instead of an enemy).

Give the other side a stake in the outcome by making sure they participate in the process - If they are not involved in the process, they are unlikely to approve the product. If you want the other side to accept a disagreeable conclusion, it is crucial that you involve them in the process of reaching that conclusion. Even if the terms of an agreement seem favorable, the other side may reject them simply out of a suspicion born of their exclusion from the drafting process. Agreement becomes much easier if both parties feel ownership of the ideas. Apart from the substantive merits, the feeling of participation in the process is perhaps the single most important factor in determining whether a negotiator accepts a proposal. In a sense, the process is the product.

Don't write up a master proposal to present to the other side. Instead, stage a joint drafting session.


In a negotiation, parties may be more ready for battle than for cooperatively working out a solution to a common problem. With the stakes high, feeling threatened and other emotions on both sides can compound to quickly bring a negotiation to an impasse or end.


Pay attention to "core concerns" - autonomy - desires to make your own choices and control yor own fate. appreciation - desire to be recognized and valued. affiliation - desire to belong as an accepted member of some peer group. status the desire to feel fairly seen and acknowledged. attending to them can build rapport and a positive climate for problem-solving negotiation

Make emotions explicit and acknowledge them as legitimate - making your feelings or theirs an explicit focus of discussion will not only underscore the seriousness of the problem, it will also make the negotiations less reactive and more proactive. Freed from the burden of unexpressed emotions, people will become more likely to work on the problem * Allow the other side to let off steam when necessary; don't react, sympathize


Three common problems:

  1. Sides have given up and are no longer trying to actually communicate, but instead trip one another up, impress third parties, or persuade spectators into taking sides
  2. Listening without hearing
  3. Misunderstanding/misinterpretation


Focus on interests, not positions

Consider the story of two men quarreling in a library: One wants the window open and the other wants it closed. They bicker back and forth about how much to leave it open: a crack, halfway, three-quarters of the way. No solution satisfies them both. Enter the librarian. She asks one why he wants the window open: "To get some fresh air." She asks the other why he wants it closed: "To avoid the draft." After thinking a minute, she opens wide a window in the next room, bringing in fresh air without a draft.

When negotiations become a conflict of positions, both sides tend to think and talk about positions, leading to impasse.

Reconciling interests rather than positions works because:

  1. For every interest there usually exists several possible positions that could satisfy it
  2. Behind opposed positions lie many more shared and compatible interests than conflicting ones

Identifying interests

Talking about interests

Invent options for mutual gain

It is difficult to design optimal solutions while under pressure. Trying to decide in the presence of an adversary narrows your vision. Having a lot at stake inhibits creativity. So does searching for the one right solution. These constraints can be offset by setting a designated time within which to think up a wide range of possible solutions that advance shared interests and creatively reconcile differing interests.

Four common obstacles inhibit the inventing of an abundance of options:

  1. Premature judgement (or fear of it)
  2. Searching for the single answer - People in negotiations naturally focus on achieving the position they want instead of expanding the scope of solutions from which to address each others interests.
  3. "Fixed pie" mentality
  4. Not caring about coming up with creative solutions for addressing the other side's interests

Skill at creatively inventing options is one of the most useful assets a negotiator can have. How to successfully invent options:

If brainstorming with the other side, reduce risk of appearing committed to any given idea by advancing at least two alternatives at the same time.

Insist on using objective criteria

Negotiations inherently have conflicting interests, and typically negotiators try to resolve such conflicts by talking about what they are willing and unwilling to accept.

It is far easier to deal with people when both of you are discussing objective standards for settling a problem instead of trying to force each other to back down.

Look for fair standards like market value, precedents, professional standards, or law. Also look at fair procedures for resolving conflicting interests, like "one cuts the other chooses", or using a 3rd-party arbitrator (eg. "last best offer arbitration" where an arbitrator chooses between the last offer made by one side and the last offer made by the other, putting pressure on both parties to make their proposals more reasonable).

When negotiating, frame each issue as a joint search for objective criteria, eg. "You want a high price and I want a low one, let's figure out what a fair price would be. What objective standards might be most relevant? How did you determine your price?"

Both sides must agree to the objective criteria – when there isn't agreement, split the difference or use a 3rd-party.

Never yield to pressure – insist that the agreement be based on sound reasons.

Developing a BATNA

When you are trying to catch an airplane your goal may seem tremendously important; looking back on it, you see you could have caught the next place. Negotiation will often present you with a similar situation... the siren song of "let's all agree and put an end to this" becomes pervasive, and you may end up with a deal you should have rejected.

The reason you negotiate is to produce something better than the results you can obtain without negotiating.

  1. Protect yourself by developing a BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) – what you would do if you fail to reach an agreement – and use it as the standard against which any proposed agreement is measured. Your BATNA should be vigorously explored, researched, and fully developed/actionable (eg. "I'll accept the job at Company X that's offered me the salary I want and lets me work remotely" vs. "I'll just find another job"). Don't look at your BATNA through rosy glasses.
  2. Formulate a trip wire. To give you early warning that the content of a possible agreement is running the risk of being too unattractive, it is useful to identify one far from perfect agreement that is better than your BATNA. Before accepting any agreement worse than this trip-wire package, you should take a break and reexamine the situation.

The better your BATNA, the greater your power. Think about how you would feel walking into a job interview with no other job offers and trying to negotiate salary, versus walking in with two other job offers.

What to do if the other sides is persistent on positional bargaining

If the other side insists on taking firm positions rather than participating in defining interests, inventing options, etc, then use "negotiation jujitsu":

If all else fails, consider using a trained third party to facilitate a principled negotiation process. Consider the one-text precedure (pg. 114).

What if they play dirty?

When the other side seems to be using a tricky tactic: recognize the tactic, raise the issue explicitly, and question the tactic's legitimacy and desirability. Separate the people from the problem – rather than saying "you deliberately put me here facing the sun," attack the problem: "I am finding the sun in my eyes quite distracting. Unless we can solve the problem, I may have to leave early to get some rest. Shall we revise the schedule?".

Common tricky tactics: