Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury

In his 1961 Inaugural Address John F Kennedy famously said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." For most of us, negotiation is almost synonymous with fear. How do we move to a place of negotiating with confidence and peace? Getting to Yes is as good a place to start that process as any I could imagine.

Getting to Yes was first published in 1981. In this, the third edition of this time tested book, the authors begin acknowledging the flattening of the workplace. If anything, flatter organizations make Fisher and Ury's work all the more important. It's not surprising then, that they note that "a generation ago, the term 'negotiation' also had an adversarial connotation. In contemplating a negotiation, the common question in people's minds was, 'Who is going to win and who is going to lose?'" Fisher and Ury suggest there is a better way in Getting to Yes and then show you how to get there.

As a pastor, you might think that negotiation isn't a skill I have to use very often, but Fisher and Ury's book was not only helpful to me in my personal life (over the past three years I have negotiated a home sale, solar panel contract, a car purchase, and a job contract). But our lives are filled with negotiation. Even in my role as a pastor, negotiation is a daily occurrence, from negotiating sermon series to recruiting people into ministry roles, to navigating ministry direction, to negotiating staff culture and church vision documents. Simply put, we all need Fisher and Ury's book.

In their clearly outlined book, they suggest that the most significant problem is that we bargain over positions. To transform our ability to successfully negotiate we must do the following four things:

1) Separate the people from the problem;

2) Focus on interests, not positions;

3) Invent options for mutual gain;

4) Insist on using objective criteria.

Some important insights along this journey include the ability to absorb criticism and not take it personally, to "face the problem, not the people," and to find compatible interests as you negotiate. Fisher and Ury recommend that you always try to uncover the methodology of how the other party created their offer and to work on principles and method they used to develop their offer. They also recommend always walking into a negotiation with a BATNA- best alternative to a negotiated agreement. If you don't have a plan B, then you can become tunnel-visioned in your negotiation. They also say that when we present an offer, our impulse is to defend our ideas, but we put ourselves in the best position if we "invite criticism" and advice.

Fisher and Ury then lead us through three frequent objections or roadblocks: what if they are more powerful? What if they won't play? Or what if they use dirty tricks? And then they conclude with a very practical section that negotiates ten frequently asked questions about applying their methods.

I was impressed not just with the combination of clarity and thoroughness from Fisher and Ury, I was also impressed by how ethically grounded 'Getting to Yes' was. One of the FAQs they respond to is "Should I be fair if I don't have to be?" Thy respond, "Sometimes you may have an opportunity to get more than you think would be fair. Should you take it. In our opinion, not without careful thought." They go on to explain that there is the potential for relational and spiritual/psychological fall-out.

Negotiation, unsurprisingly, is most effective face to face. They shared interesting data from a study: "In a negotiation where only sellers knew what an item was worth, the results varied dramatically based on the mode of communication. In face-to-face interactions, only a small minority of sellers lied and took advantage. But in written interactions a third did and in phone negotiations more than half did. Meanwhile buyers were appropriately wary in written interactions, but generally trusting in face-to-face and phone negotiations, leading many telephone buyers to be seriously disadvantaged. Almost 60 percent of face-to-face interactions resulted in mutually beneficial agreements, while only 22 percent did in written interactions and 38 percent in telephone negotiations."

One of the most intense negotiations I've ever had to walk through was, as a green pastor, purchasing land from the largest land owner in the county (maybe the state, depending on who was telling the story). He was wealthiest man I've ever negotiated with and, well past retirement age, appeared to still be in the game merely for the sport of it. We heard stories that he would counter with higher figures and cancel contracts just to toy with the buyer. This seller was the perfect fusion of the three biggest roadblocks: he was more powerful, wouldn't play, and used dirty tricks. I was grateful to have two much more skilled negotiators with me who clearly had imbibed the Getting to Yes planning and watch them in action. The negotiation wasn't about beating this master, it was about establishing clear communication where we understood what would be a win for him (the price he wanted) while developing creative options that benefited us (partial financing, very flexible contract cancellation clauses). I'm grateful for the life tutorials that preceded Fisher and Ury's book and then the clear and practical presentation of those ideas in Getting to Yes. I highly recommend the book.


Photo credit: Nick MacMillan/Unsplash