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Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In

Read date: 26/10/21 - 15/11/21

How I came across it

I first heard of Getting to Yes while listening to an episode of Tim Ferriss’s podcast on a run. Not long after that, I saw that a copy was available at the hospital library to borrow so I jumped on that opportunity!

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed reading Getting to Yes. It conceptualises methods of negotiating that most of us already know about into a clear actionable framework. The book itself is quick and easy to read and I’ve become more aware of how I can negotiate more effectively. In fact, I’ve put some of these techniques into use with the projects I run!

Who should read this?

Anyone and everyone! In particular, I think this will be very useful to anyone doing any work that requires a degree of collaboration with team members or external parties.

My Notes

  • Conflict is inevitable and necessary. A quote in the book goes: “Like it or not, you are a negotiator. Negotiation is a fact of life.”

  • Most of us associate negotiation with business deals and sales, but it is used throughout our daily lives. Simply put, negotiation is a way of reaching an agreement when you and the other side have both shared and opposing interests. It involves a process of back and forth communication.

  • Being a negotiator isn’t just about being hard/soft, or something in between. There is a need to be both hard and soft - being a principled negotiator as described by the authors: hard on merits and soft on people.

  • The issues with typical negotiation (also known as positional bargaining) are that:

    1. There is a balance between getting what you want and getting along with other people. Giving in to the other party’s requests can lead to resentment and the final outcome of the discussion may not lead to a solution that meets the interests of both parties.

    2. It involves taking a position and arguing for it. By doing so, you get locked into that position; you have little choice but to maintain that position in order to save face.

    3. It wastes time. People typically use tactics to try and push the other party into compromising e.g. threatening to walk out of the discussion.

  • Negotiation methods should be assessed in three ways:

    1. The possibility of producing a wise agreement if agreement is feasible. The agreement should:

      • Meet the legitimate interests of both sides to whatever extent possible

      • Resolve conflicting interests fairly

      • Account for community interest

    2. Efficiency.

    3. Amicability. Whatever the outcome of the negotiation, it should not damage the relationship between the parties involved.

  • Principled negotiation focusses on 4 domains:

    1. People. Separating the people from the problem allows participants to work together and attack the problem.

    2. Interests. Focus on interests to address the needs that underlie positions people might take.

    3. Options. Invent multiple options looking for mutual gains before deciding what to do. This allows for more creative thinking under less pressure.

    4. Criteria. Insist that the result of negotiations be based on some objective standard (e.g. the market standard) for a fair solution.

  • The stages of negotiation are outlined in the image below.

Domain 1: Separate the people from the problem.

  • Negotiation requires us to deal with people. Your aim is not only to end up with a beneficial agreement for yourself, but also to maintain a good working relationship with the other party.

  • We are very likely to treat the people and problem as one, hence we can end up taking things personally or making assumptions during negotiation.

  • For this, the authors suggest dealing with these “people problems” using psychological techniques that focus on perception, emotion, and communication.

  • There is a need to understand the other party’s thinking and see the situation as they see it, especially the emotional force they have to believe in it. The authors suggest discussing this during a negotiation.

  • Avoid deducing the other party’s intentions from your own fear or blaming them for your problem.

  • Try to act inconsistently with their perception of you. This can make them realise that their perception may be inaccurate.

  • Involve them in the process of coming up with a solution. This makes it more likely that they approve of the outcome.

  • Help them save face! Align the proposal with their values.

  • Recognise and understand the emotions both sides are feeling. Address them by talking about them.

  • Allow the other side to let off steam. Avoid reacting to any emotional outbursts, just listen without responding to the attacks.

  • Symbolic gestures e.g. apologies can go a long way. It does not necessarily mean that you are taking responsibility - this is similar to something I often hear in Medicine where we apologise that someone is feeling a certain way, not because you are responsible for what happened.

  • Listen actively to understand their perceptions, needs and constraints. This can be difficult in a stressful situation but understanding ≠ agreement.

  • Speak to be understood. Using a more private means of communication/speaking in smaller groups can limit external distractions.

  • Try to present the “people problems'' mentioned above. This allows you to build a relationship with the other side where both sides are partners in dealing with the problem.

  • Describe the problem in terms of how you felt and not what they did e.g. “I felt …” to reduce any defensiveness they may feel.

  • There has to be a reason as to why you say something. If there isn’t a reason to say something, then some things are better left unsaid.

Domain 2: Focus on interests, not positions.

  • Focus on reconciling interests because they determine the position taken by each side.

  • Behind opposing positions are shared and conflicting interests. There can be different interests within a group depending on the individual, these can affect your own and the group’s interests.

  • Identify interests by asking “Why?” and “Why not?” to understand their concerns.

  • Consider the basic human needs such as security, economic wellbeing, and a sense of belonging when identifying interests.

  • Explain your interests and be specific, make sure to highlight the legitimacy of the problem (see point below).

  • When making a point, explain the reasoning behind it first before giving your conclusions/proposal!

  • Appreciate others’ interests and acknowledge them.

  • Make a list of these interests!

  • Look ahead. Find a shared purpose and consider the concrete steps to take things forward.

  • Although you need concrete options, stay flexible to new ideas.

  • The aim is to attack the problem. Be hard on the problem and soft on the people.

Domain 3: Invent options for mutual gain.

  • The aim is to expand the pie before dividing it.

  • Brainstorm as many possible ideas before making a decision so you can find as many options as possible.

  • When preparing to brainstorm:

    • Determine the purpose of the brainstorming session.

    • Gather 5-8 individuals.

    • Find a different environment to where you usually meet.

    • Build an informal atmosphere.

    • Have a facilitator to steer the discussion.

  • During the brainstorm session:

    • Sit participants side by side to emphasise that the purpose is so everyone can attack the problem together.

    • All ideas should be recorded for everyone to see - use a whiteboard placed in front of participants.

    • Have ground rules in place e.g. no criticism, confidentiality etc.

  • After brainstorming:

    • Identify the most promising ideas and invent improvements for these.

    • Find some time after brainstorming to evaluate the ideas you came up with and decide which are the most promising.

  • You could also brainstorm with the other side. To avoid it appearing like you’ve committed to an idea, label all options as possibilities, not proposals.

  • There are four steps to coming up with good options, highlighted in the image below.

  • Understanding why a good option is a good option allows you to come with more options.

  • Examine the issue through different perspectives. Try to get people from different disciplines to contribute to the discussion.

  • When a full agreement isn’t possible, you can aim for a second-order agreement. For example, making a provisional agreement instead of a permanent agreement, agreeing on smaller chunks of a proposal, or simply agreeing on where you disagree.

  • Options should be about mutual gain. (This is why there is a need to identify shared and opposing interests because they allow for satisfactory agreements!)

  • Of the options that are equally acceptable to you, ask the other side which they prefer.

  • Make things easier for the other side. Provide options that are easy to implement and address their concerns/restraints.

Domain 4: Use objective criteria/standards.

  • Use fair criteria that are independent of either party to evaluate a proposal. Examples of objective standards include market values, competitive prices, and regulations.

  • Refer to any precedents and community practice.

  • Use objective procedures. For example, if one side cuts the pie, the other side chooses which slice they want.

  • What is “fair”? Consider why someone feels something is fair and be open to their reasoning.

  • Get advice from a third party.

  • Avoid yielding to pressure when someone tries to use the typical methods of positional bargaining. Once again, learn about their reasoning and apply objective criteria to their points.


1. What if you’re negotiating with someone who is more powerful/has more resources? Develop a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) to protect yourself from making an agreement you should reject and make the most of your assets.

  • A BATNA acts like a bottom line that you can use for comparison to any proposals.

  • To develop a BATNA, consider how attractive it is to not reach an agreement. For example, if you already have two job offers before going into a job interview, it probably won’t matter that much if you aren’t given the position in the end.

  • Come up with a list of alternatives to not reaching an agreement and work on them so they can become practical alternatives for you.

  • You may want to disclose your BATNA to the other side, but this will depend on the situation.

  • What is the other side’s BATNA? If theirs is already so good that they don’t need to negotiate with you then you might want to try and change it so negotiations can continue.

2. What if they don’t want to play?

  • You need to try and change the game. Apply the rules of principled negotiation (learning about their interests, etc) and what the authors call “negotiation jujitsu”.

    • Invite criticism and advice for your ideas.

    • Be open to correction and persuasion. Use “please correct me if I’m wrong…”

    • Use “and” instead of “but” when speaking.

    • Ask questions to confirm the facts.

    • Make good use of silence.

  • Involve a third party to produce drafts of a proposal.

  • You don’t need to get back to them right away.

3. What if they play dirty tricks? They might be deliberately deceiving you by giving fake facts, using psychological warfare e.g. personal attacks, or positional pressure tactics e.g. the age old “take it or leave it” spiel.

  • Spot the tactic and call it out.

  • Apply the principles of negotiation outlined in the book.

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