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Book Summary: Getting To Yes

Getting To Yes is a book written to propose a combination of disciplines and ideas for negotiating practitioners. It positions itself as an antidote to the paradigm of positional bargaining, and proposes a series of alternative practices and exercises to change the way negotiations unfold and conclude.


The book walks the reader through a series of 8 critiques of conventional negotiating practice and recommendations to conduct negotiations differently.



1. Don't Bargain Over Positions

Any method of negotiation may be fairly judged by three criteria:

  1. It should produce a wise agreement (i.e. it meets both sides’ interests, resolves things fairly, is durable, accounts for community interests)

  2. It should be efficient

  3. And it should not damage the relationship between the parties

Arguing over positions is inefficient.

  • Negotiators tend to lock themselves into their positions. The more they clarify their position and defend it, the more committed they are to it. Ego gets involved. The more extreme, the more drawn out the negotiation.

There is an alternative – principled negotiation can be boiled down to four basic points:

  1. People – separate the people from the problem. The participants should see themselves as working side by side, attacking the problem, not each other

  2. Interests – focus on interests, not positions

  3. Options – Generate a variety of possibilities for mutual gain before deciding what to do

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


2. Separate People From The Problem

Negotiators are people first.

  • You are dealing with human beings, not abstract representatives. They have emotions, deeply held values, and different backgrounds and viewpoints.

  • Be sensitive to the people around you.

Put yourself in their shoes.

  • Seeing the situation as the other side sees it, is one of the most important skills a negotiator can possess.

  • If you want to influence them, you also need to understand empathetically their point of view.

  • Understanding their point of view is not the same as agreeing with it.

Address the other side’s concerns.

  • It is common in negotiation to treat as “unimportant” those concerns of the other side perceived as not standing in the way of an agreement.

  • To the contrary, communicating loudly and convincingly things you are willing to say that they would like to hear can be one of the best investments you as a negotiator can make.

3. Focus On Interests, Not Positions

For a wise (see above) solution, reconcile interests not positions.

  • Interests define the problem – reconciling interests rather than positions works for both parties. For every interest there usually exist several possible positions that could satisfy it.

How do you identify the interests of the other side which may well go unexpressed and purposely hidden?

  • STEP 1: Ask “Why?” Ask why they take a particular position. You are asking not for justification of this position, but for an understanding of the needs, hopes, or fears.

  • STEP 2: Ask “Why not?” To uncover interests, discover what they think you are asking them for. If you are trying to change their minds, the starting point is to figure out where their minds are now.

  • STEP 3: Construct the other side’s currently perceived choices.

  • STEP 4: Now analyze the consequences, as the other side would probably see them, of agreeing or refusing to make the decision you are asking for.

Make a list of interests.

  • Sort out the various interests of each side as they occur to you.

  • This will enable you to improve the quality of your assessment as you learn new information and to place interests in their order of importance.

  • Acknowledge their interests. People listen better if they feel that you understand them. So if you want the other side to appreciate your interests, begin by demonstrating that you appreciate theirs.

4. Invent Options For Mutual Gain

Obstacles that inhibit the inventing of an abundance of options:

  • Premature judgment – Nothing is so harmful to inventing options as waiting to pounce on the drawbacks of any new idea. Judgment hinders imagination.

  • Searching for a single answer –Too often, negotiators view their job as narrowing the gap between parties, not broadening options available.

  • The assumption of a fixed pie – seeing the situation as either/or – either I get it or they do.

  • Thinking that “solving their problem is their problem” – for a negotiator to reach an agreement that meets his own self-interest he needs to develop a solution which also appeals to the interest of the other side.

The solution to these obstacles:

  • Invent options, don’t judge them. Invent first, decide later.

  • Invent ways of making their decisions easy. Rather than making things difficult for the other side, you want to confront them with a choice that is as painless as possible. Without some option that appeals to them, there is likely to be no agreement at all.

Dovetailing different interests.

  • Dovetailing is the process of looking for items that are low cost to you and high benefit to them, and vice versa.

  • Many creative agreements reflect the principle of reaching agreement through differences. Differences in interests make it possible for an item to be of high value to you, yet low cost to the other side.

  • Ask for their preferences as a way of dovetailing interests. Invent several options all equally acceptable to you and ask the other side which one they prefer. You then take the option that is most preferable, work with it some more, and again present two or more variants, asking which one they prefer. In this way, without anyone making a decision, you can improve a plan until there are no more joint gains.

5. Insist On Using Objective Criteria

Commit yourself to reaching agreement based on principle, not pressure. Be open to reason, but closed to threats.

  • The more you and the other side refer to established standards, to precedent or community practice, the greater your chance of producing a wise and fair agreement.

  • A constant battle for dominance threatens the chance of agreement; principled negotiation protects it.

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

Carrying on a principled negotiation involves two questions: How do you develop objective criteria? How do you use them in negotiating?

  • Objective criteria need to be independent of each side’s will and also need to be legitimate and practical.

Negotiating with objective criteria – three points to remember:

  1. Frame each issue as a joint search for objective criteria. For example, “let’s figure out what a fair price would be.”

  2. Reason and be open to reason as to which standards are most appropriate.

  3. Never yield to pressure, only to principle


6. What If They Are More Powerful? (Develop Your BATNA - Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement)

Develop Your BATNA (Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement)

  • In response to power, the most any method can do is to meet two objectives:

  • Protect you against making an agreement you should reject.

  • Help make the most of the assets you have so that any agreement you reach will satisfy your interests as well as possible.

Protecting yourself

A major danger is that you will be too accommodating to the views of the other side. The argument, “Let’s all agree and put an end to this” becomes persuasive. You may end up with a deal you should have rejected.

The costs of using a bottom line. While adopting a bottom line may protect you from accepting a bad agreement, it may keep you both from inventing and from agreeing to a solution that would be wise to accept.

Making the most of your assets

  • The better your BATNA, the greater your power: People think of negotiating power as being determined by resources like wealth, political connections, friends, or power over subordinates. In fact, the relative negotiating power of two parties depends primarily upon how attractive to each is the option of not reaching agreement. For example, how would you feel walking into a job interview with no other job offers? Think how the talk about salary would go. Now contrast that with how would you feel walking in with two other job offers. The difference is power. The greater your willingness to break off negotiations, the more forcefully you can present your interests and the basis on which you believe an agreement should be reached.

  • Should you disclose your BATNA to the other side?: Assess the other side’s thinking. If your BATNA is extremely attractive – if you have another customer waiting in the next room – it is in your best interest to let the other side know. If they think you lack a good alternative when, in fact, you have one, then you should almost certainly let them know. However, if your best alternative to a negotiated agreement is worse than they think, disclosing it will weaken your hand rather than strengthen it.

  • Consider the other side’s BATNA: The more you can learn about their alternatives, the better prepared you are for negotiations. If both sides have attractive BATNAs, the best outcome of the negotiation – for both parties – may well be not to reach agreement.

7. What If They Won't Play (Using Negotiation Jujitsu)

Don’t attack their position, look behind it.

  • Neither accept nor reject their position. Look for ways to improve it. Assume every position they take is a genuine attempt to address the basic concerns of each side. Ask them how they think it addresses the problems at hand.

Don’t defend your ideas, invite criticism and advice.

  • Instead of asking them to accept or reject an idea, ask them what’s wrong with it.

  • Examine their negative judgments to find out their underlying interests and to improve your ideas from their point of view.

  • Rework your ideas in light of what you learn from them.

Recast an attack on you as an attack on the problem.

  • Don’t defend yourself when attacked. Listen to what they are saying and when they have finished, recast their attack on you as an attack on the problem.

Ask questions and pause.

  • Those engaged in negotiation jujitsu use two tools:

  • They use questions instead of statements, which allows the other side to get their points across and lets you understand them.

  • Silence. If they make an unreasonable proposal or an attack you regard as unjustified, the best thing is not to say anything. Silence creates an uncomfortable situation especially if they have doubts about the merits of what they just said.

8. What If They Use Dirty Tricks? (Taming The Hard Bargainer)

Dirty tricks are actually tests about the negotiating game that the parties are going to play.

  • To counter them, you will want to engage in principled negotiation about the negotiating process.

How do you negotiate the rules of the game? There are three steps in negotiating the rules of the negotiating game:

  1. Recognize the tactic – Learn to spot particular ploys that make you feel uncomfortable or indicate deception.

  2. Raise the issue explicitly – Discussing the tactic makes it less effective. Simply raising a question about a tactic may be enough to get them to stop using it.

  3. Question the tactic’s legitimacy and desirability – bringing it up gives you the opportunity to negotiate about the rules of the game. This negotiation focuses on the procedure (or how the two sides will negotiate) instead of the substance of the negotiation.

Common tricky tactics

  • Phony facts – knowingly making false statements

  • Ambiguous authority – the other side may allow you to believe they have full authority to compromise when they don’t. After they have pressed you as hard as they can and you have worked out a firm agreement, they announce that they must take it to someone else for approval. To counter, insist on reciprocity. “All right. We will treat it as a joint draft to which neither side is committed. You check with your boss and I’ll sleep on it and see if I come up with any changes I want to suggest tomorrow.”

  • Stressful situations

  • Personal attacks

  • The good-guy/bad-guy routine

  • Threats

  • Heard-hearted partner – the other side justifies not yielding because a hard-hearted partner will not let him.

  • A calculated delay

  • “Take it or leave it.”

Don’t be a victim

  • Whatever you do, be prepared to fight dirty bargaining tactics. You can be just as firm as they can, even firmer. It is easier to defend principle than an illegitimate tactic. Don’t be a victim.


You can evaluate the value of a publication by the number of citations it receives both formally and informally. In the world of management, sales, and negotiation, Getting To Yes is a milestone – it has been the touchstone of several thinkers and theorists in negotiations since its publication. In the world of professional development, few books reach this level of recognition.

The core of its appeal consists in three main insights:

  1. BATNA: This funny mnemonic is very influential, and based on a simple, powerful insight: If your deal fails, you have other, good, options. Fisher and Ury dig deep into this concept and give it grounding in a way that allows any salesperson, representative, or advocate to assess their own BATNA and make tactical decisions.

  2. Interests over positions: This idea is full of power. Once a negotiator learns to look for interests, they can play creative chess where previously they were playing a rigged game of checkers.

  3. Peership: After a number of readings, you realise that you would be totally happy to negotiate with someone who has read this book and embraced its principles. This is not true of the majority of books in this field, and it is a credit to Fisher and Ury that they have established ideas and techniques that improve the professional world broadly if applied across the board.

I recommend this book enthusiastically for professionals who find themselves in regular negotiations, from newcomers to veterans.

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