Saturday, September 3, 2011

Book Review: Getting to Yes

Recently, I observed two business professionals get locked into a heated exchange that went something like this:

A: "I want you to give me cookies."

B: "We don't give out cookies."

A: "If you don't give me cookies, I won't work with you."

B: "We don't give out cookies. I have repeatedly found it is bad for business."

A: "Fine, I'm leaving."

I've replaced the actual subject matter with cookies to illustrate a concept known as positional bargaining. Rather than focusing on what both parties really wanted, the focus was on a position - the cookies. They reached an impasse and their discussion rapidly deteriorated.

Overcoming this challenge is one of a number of important concepts discussed in this week's book review subject: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Fisher, Ury, and Patton. This book is a classic. First published in 1981, it has continued to sell and serve people in all walks of life.

All of us find ourself in negotiations of one sort or another. Getting to Yes is a guide to successfully navigate those negotiations as well as to diagnose when things are not going well and take steps to correct it. One of the most valuable lessons in Getting to Yes is to focus on interests and not positions. In the example above, Person A's interest in having the cookies is never stated. Had the reason behind the request been made clear, the two of them could have focused on addressing the issue and explored solutions that could meet both their interests.

I just want to tease some of this subject matter - my goal with these book reviews is always to encourage leaders and managers to read and absorb the material. The book itself gives a much deeper explanation and is full of additional useful tips. I highlight one of the most important.

One criticism I've encountered Getting to Yes is that it is too idealistic. These critics will often poise a scenario:

Person A: I want you dead.
Person B: Well, I want me alive. this an irreconcilable difference of position? Maybe...but not necessarily. Again, what are person A's interests? If they truly are mutually exclusive with Person B staying alive, then sure, negotiation probably won't work. But in my professional life I have very very rarely encountered anything approaching that kind of scenario. In general, people do have interests that can be met if they will put the work in.

I recommend Getting to Yes for team leaders, managers, and anyone involved with regular negotiations of any kind - and yes, that includes all of us.

Happy Reading!

David M. Dye

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David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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