How to negotiate properly

Fisher and Ury wrote the seminal book on negotiation. Sure, there’s been lots written since, but this is the one we keep going back to. So why is their approach so good? Well, it provides a model, clear guidelines, and these will help you plan your negotiation, and help you reflect on how it went. So, what is their approach? To develop a method for reaching positive agreements. Rather than bargain over positions, (which can cement you in) bargain over issues and keep an open mind.

When the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, went to negotiate their first film deal he began by saying “My boys want 7.5%, take it or leave it.” Now this was more than any band had ever made. However, the film company had told their negotiator, Walter Shenson, to offer 25%, as a starting point!

So what are the four Fisher and Ury principles of negotiation?

Separate the people from the problem

Negotiations can become personal, which means emotional, which can lead to irrationality and not wanting to lose face. So, if we focus squarely on our own interests, and not joint interests, then it leads to a battle. Focus firstly on the problems and issues, understand where each other is coming from, and try to come up with solutions that are good for both sides. Listen, no really listen, to what their problems are, where are they coming from, then you will understand and be in a much better position to know the boundaries of the negotiations. Go in with questions, not with answers.

Focus on interests, not positions

If we focus on our position, rather than our interests, then it becomes win/lose. If you can find, jointly, a solution that meets both sides’ interests then it becomes win/win. So what are their interests, (rather than their position)? What are your interests? It’s strange how often both sides’ interests are much the same and so a solution can be worked out. So both sides need to disclose their interests, and be open to a joint solution.

Generate options

Deciding too early on an option, may mean missing out on an opportunity to generate win/win options for both sides, rather than assuming one side has to lose. So, to begin with:

  • Stating the problem
  • Analysing the problem
  • Considering general approaches
  • Considering specific actions

Only after a variety of proposals have been made should you begin to evaluate the ideas, and that should start with the most promising proposals, and on shared interests. Each side should, according to Fisher and Ury, “look for items that are of low cost to you and high benefit to them, and vice versa.”

Use objective criteria

If there are opposing interests, both sides should use objective criteria to resolve their differences, don’t get into a battle of wills as this will destroy the relationship. This means keeping an open mind, both sides considering the others’ interests, and also finding the criteria to make it more objective. This means looking at the underlying reasons behind their positions, and using objective criteria, and facts so the negotiations remain amicable, and practical.

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury

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