You can't shake hands with a clenched fist. - Indira Gandhi
Last week I learned that one of my former high school administrators (who retired last year) was diagnosed with cancer. Always upbeat and a great educator, he is heading up the local Relay for Life effort – which is how I learned of his illness when I read about it in the local paper. It got me thinking about high school and admitting that I actually learned some stuff while I was there.
In high school there was a nascent business program that taught us keyboarding and the critically important BASIC and COBOL computer languages. In that class we were assigned a book to read, Roger Fisher and William Ury's Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Since it was small, thin and easier to read than , we did not consider this a difficult assignment. It was a newly published work – then.
So, twenty-five years later, let me go over the very simple premise of the book and encourage you to pick it up if you have not read it. It is a classic.
The authors' theme is to develop a structured method to secure good agreements. They move beyond zero-sum mentality (someone wins-someone loses) to theorize that good business involves negotiated, long-term solutions. They propose a four step structure:
- separate people from the problem
- focus on interests not positions
- look at options before settling on an agreement; and,
- insist that the agreement be based on objective criteria.
There are three obstacles to employing this structure:
- one party may be more powerful
- one party may not use principled negotiation; and,
- one party may use dirty tricks.
The authors offer techniques that allow you to overcome these three obstacles. But, this is not about giving in. It is about "getting to yes," getting to an agreement without resorting to unprincipled tactics or succumbing to such tactics. The principles can be applied in business, international relations, legal disputes, bill collection, and even marital conflicts. This is a must read if you want to grow a lasting business and become a more effective communicator.
It is one of those books that sits on your shelf and you pick it up from time to time. My copy has followed me through two colleges, law school, and eight address changes since it was given to me in high school.