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LGST 221 Conflict Resolution (G3)

Academic Year 08/09 Term 1

A Critical Review of

Getting to Yes:
Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
By Roger Fisher & William Ury

Prepared for:
Professor Ian MacDuff

Submitted by:
Chan Chiu Yu Anthony

In “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In”, Roger

Fisher and William Ury discuss four principles for effective
negotiation. They also highlight three common obstacles to effective
negotiation, and suggest ways to overcome them. This text provides
great insights into negotiation using a principled approach.

Fisher and Ury explain the differences between positional and

principled negotiation. Positional negotiation produces unwise
agreements that satisfy no one. To come to an agreement, at least
one of the parties need to compromise on their contrasting
beginning positions. The authors argue that that is inefficient, and it
might ruin the relationships between the parties. Instead they
develop four straightforward principles of negotiation that could
work on any conflicts. The four principles are, 1) Separate the
people from the problem, 2) Focus on interests, not positions, 3)
Invent options for mutual gain, and 4) Insist on using objective

Fisher and Ury’s first principle involve separating people from the
This encourages them to put their personal issues aside and address
the real issues at hand. This would help them to gain a clearer view
of the problem without the entanglement of the relationship.

The authors identify solutions to three common people problems

that get in the way. First, it is essential that both parties understand
each other’s viewpoint. This reduces the negative assumptions
made by the both parties and dispels the distrust between them.
Second, the parties must allow the other side to express their
emotions, and not just dismiss them. Fear and anger often arise
when personal interests are threatened, thus it is important to
acknowledge and try to understand these emotions at their source.
To achieve the aforementioned objectives, amicable communication
between the parties is emphasized. Note that these methods do not
call for acceptance of the other party’s viewpoints, but instead

The first principle is useful to remind us not to get personal but to

focus on the real problem at hand; it does not need to be
complicated further with our emotions. This is especially applicable
in our conservative Asian context, where emotions are often
neglected and dismissed. We are reluctant to discuss our emotions
in public, which leads to even more misunderstandings. It is
important that we get these emotions out of the way before we can
start working out an amicable agreement.

Fisher and Ury’s second principle involve focusing on the parties’

interests, by identifying them and working towards a desired
agreement. The key here is to maintain a clear focus on the
interests, but be open to different positions and proposals as long as
the interests are taken cared of.
Fisher and Ury’s third principle involves brainstorming for innovative
methods to solve the problem at hand. Obstacles to this step
include premature judgements of the methods, looking for only one
method, the win-lose mentality and leaving the other party to come
up with the solution. The authors suggest that broadening the
parties’ options, and looking out for mutual gains could eliminate
these obstacles. The most promising proposals are then improved
and refined, working towards an agreement.

During a conflict, we often forget why we are insisting on a certain

position. Our interests influence positions that we take, but in the
negotiation process we often focus on our positions. The second
principle is useful in reminding us that our interests lie not in the
positions that we take, and to remain open to other options, which
could take care of the interests of both parties. The third principle
reinforces the second principle by providing these new options,
allowing the disputing parties to work together for a common

Fisher and Ury’s fourth principle involves the parties using objective
criteria to when interests are in direct conflict. A battle of wills is
inefficient; decisions made based on appropriate standards make it
more acceptable for the parties to agree on. With the agreement of
the parties on what objective criteria to use, this would create a just
procedure to resolve their differences.

One weakness with the fourth principle is setting the objective

criterion. It is a good method when the differences are quantifiable.
A question to ask would be how does one set a criterion for
intangible differences, like personal values? People do have
different and strong convictions about certain issues, moral and
religious, which could become a platform for further conflict. It
would be difficult for the parties reconcile these differences, or to
agree on an objective criterion.

Fisher and Ury also explore three common obstacles to an effective

negotiation, and suggest solutions for them.

First, if the other party is more powerful than you, instead of using a
worst-case scenario as a bottom line, establish a BATNA (best
alternative to a negotiated agreement) would help to protect the
weaker party against a poor agreement. It would help to determine
a minimally acceptable agreement.

The BATNA is a breakthrough concept developed by the authors,

which serves to empower the weaker parties. In my perspective, a
BATNA is not much different from a bottom line. Rather, the BATNA
is a better method of establishing a bottom line. However, this
bottom line should be flexible, and should be revised at every stage
of the negotiation. The BATNA gives setting a bottom line a new
perspective, and is brilliant concept nonetheless.

Second, if the other party refuse to engage in principled negotiation,

the authors suggest two options. The first option is to persevere
with principled negotiation and continue to deflect their positional
attacks unto the problem instead. In the second option, a third party
could be brought in to use the one-text approach. A proposal is
drafted by the mediator, commented on by the parties, and
redrafted again until the mediator feels that no improvements could
be made. Then, the parties must decide to either accept the
proposal, or withdraw from the negotiation.

In an Asian context, we are often reluctant to bring in a mediator

into a dispute due to our pride, especially in domestic affairs. Many
relationships break down because the parties refuse to seek help.
Again, this is an issue involving the emotional aspect, and it brings
us back to the first principle, to focus on solving the problem at

Third, if the other party are using unethical or unpleasant tricks, the
authors suggest raising the issue up during negotiation. When
deception is used, ask for verification from the other party. When
psychological pressure is used, express your discomfort and suggest
alternatives. When faced with a take-it-or-leave-it offer as a
bargaining chip, continue to take it as an expressed interest and
treat it as a proposal. Ultimately, do not hesitate to point out dirty

This is a good point to take note of, especially for Asians. Proven by
research to be less assertive and less willing to rock the boat, Asians
may choose to endure the dirty tricks the other party may be

This text provides a lot of food for thought, but it also fail to
highlight several issues.

Firstly, the authors totally dismiss the notion of positional

negotiation, failing to explore a possible hybrid method combining
both positional and principled negotiation. In the second and third
principles presented by the authors, by focusing on mutual gains,
the pie to be shared is enlarged via new options. However, to split
this pie, conflicting interests still need to be satisfied. At this point, I
believe that positional negotiation would be more applicable for the
parties to satisfy their own interests.

Secondly, the authors also fail to explore how the nature of the
conflict, characteristics of the parties involved and the relationships
between the parties can affect how the conflict could be resolved.
The principled approach suggested by the authors seems to be a
one-size fits all method, which needs to be refined for each different

Lastly, the authors fail to consider how both parties’ desire for a
successful negotiation, and the size of the conflict could play a role
in its outcome. If the matter in conflict is a trivia issue to a party,
and significant to the other, the latter would desire reconciliation
more. In this case, the former may either yield to the latter as a
gesture of goodwill, or he may use the situation to his advantage.

The book draws a lot on common sense and experience, putting

words to our thoughts. Many materials and ideas in the text are not
things that we do not already know, however it does place those
materials and ideas into perspective for us, creating a step-by-step
guideline for one to follow. This text serves best as a reminder and
guideline for one on how to prepare and conduct oneself during a
negotiation. The guideline given though, is very general, and minor
alterations to it would be needed to suit each different conflict. This
text would be a good start for beginners to step into the world of
negotiation and mediation.