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A to Z of Negotiation - G is for Getting to Yes

No discussion of negotiation would be fully complete without mention of the book Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. First published in 1981, Getting to Yes sets out fundamental principles of interest-based negotiation. While some of the references within the book are now little dated, the foundation principles still remain current. I highly recommend it as a relatively easy read for anyone interested in in developing their negotiation skills.

For those of you who don’t have the time to read the whole book, I’ve summarised below the key principles.

Separate the people from the problem

A key challenge in negotiations is the potential for high emotions. Often, this can result from poor communication or damaged relationships. When we separate the people from the problem, we use careful communication to ensure understanding. We also need to recognise that we can only ever make assumptions about a person’s intention. All we can observe is the person’s behaviour and the impact of that behaviour on us.

Focus on interests, not positions

This boils down to thinking not about what somebody wants but rather, why they want it. Take for example the classic story of two children fighting over an orange. If we asked the children what they wanted, both would say they want the orange. Based only on this information, the outcome might be to split the orange in half. Both children walk away feeling dissatisfied that they didn’t get all of what they wanted. They may however feel satisfied that it was a “fair” outcome.

Imagine now, that we asked the children why they want the orange. The first child tells us they are hungry. The second child tells us that they are making a Jaffa cake and they need some orange rind to flavour the chocolate batter that they’ve made.

Now that we focused on the interest, rather than the position, a much better outcome becomes possible. We can grate the rind off the orange for the second child to head into the cake batter and give all of the orange flesh to the first child to eat.

Invent options for mutual gain

if we adopt a purely distributive negotiation process, it is very likely that the negotiation will result in a suboptimal outcome. Distributive negotiation often considers only one set of interests (often money) when parties may have significantly more interests play.

Take for example a new employee negotiating their salary. The employer has offered to pay $80,000 currently but the employee is requesting $85,000.

In a distributive negotiation, statistically they are likely end up with an agreed salary of around $82,500. However, let’s assume that the employee has children in primary school. The employee pays around $60 a day for after-school care and feels slightly guilty about not being around much for the children. The employer could offer a day week working from home, saving the employee childcare costs and providing additional time with the family. In return, the employer may get the employee at the lower pay rate and have a happier, more engaged employee.

Insist on using objective criteria

Our brains are hardwired to look for reasons to do things. This is demonstrated in a famous Harvard study where it was shown that the rate of agreement to a request to cutting in to the front of the photocopying line almost doubled when the requestor gave a reason for cutting in. This was despite the fact that the reason they gave was “because I need to make some copies” – a bogus reason.

Providing reasons for the requests we make in a negotiation assist in influencing our negotiation counterpart. The more objective these reasons, the more influential. So if you want to chop down a tree in your yard, saying to the council “I’d like to chop down a tree as I have an expert report that it is structurally unsound” will be much more influential than “I’d like to chop down the tree as I’m worried about its safety”.

Know your BATNA

BATNA is a commonly used negotiation acronym meaning Best Alternative To a Negotiated Outcome. In summary, we need to understand what we will do if we were unable to reach a negotiated outcome to determine what an acceptable negotiated outcome must look like. For more information about this, refer to my previous blog on Alternatives.

I hope you've found this summary of Getting to Yes useful. For more information about how to negotiate effectively, or for assistance with your next negotiation, contact us for a confidential, no-obligation discussion.

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