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Learning Negotiation Skills Will Help You Succeed

Learning Negotiation Skills Will Help You Succeed

Posted by JB on Dec 12th 2018

There are certain skills— like writing—that you must develop no matter what your career, job, industry, or lifestyle. You must write well to communicate and you must communicate no matter what you do.

The skill of negotiating is in this same category as writing. Whether you are an attorney, artist, or some sort of aristocrat, you must negotiate to achieve what you want in life, from business to financial to personal.

When you consider negotiating, you might think of negotiating tricks like good cop/bad cop, psychological games and other tactics. Those can be effective, but they are, in fact, bush league and most decent negotiators will see through them.

But even more significant and concerning is that they harm the relationship with the party with whom you are negotiating. And most negotiations are with repeat players. You might win the battle, but you will lose in the long run. Besides, even if you achieve a favorable immediate agreement, the other side’s inevitable dissatisfaction with both the result and the process may cause them to try to find a way out of the deal later. And finally, it just isn’t pleasant—which you ought to incorporate into your equation because life should, whenever possible, be pleasant.

I prefer what is often called the Harvard Method of Principled Negotiation. That approach seeks a wise agreement in a way that will preserve the relationship rather than destroy it. In that spirit, I just re-read the classic book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury, which sets the foundation for the Harvard Negotiating Method.

As a side note, we will sometimes review books here at the Success, Health, and Lifestyle blog. Not all of them are new books. We won’t assume you have read every book in existence other than what has come out recently. The best book to read is not necessarily one on recent best sellers’ lists or one that catches your eye through marketing. If you read the blog Brain Pickings, you will see that Maria Popova introduces books to her readers that aren’t necessarily new. We like that approach and follow it here.

Getting to Yes was first published in 1981, but it has been republished with new editions many times since then and maintains its value and usefulness. It is one of those core books that you should read.

There are other related books that might interest you as well:

Click here if you are interested in our review of Donald Trump's "The Art of the Deal," and his very different approach to negotiating deals (especially real-estate).

If you are interested in negotiationyou might also enjoy our review of "Never Split the Difference" by Chris Voss (with Tahl Raz).

What Can You Learn from the Book Getting to Yes?

The first point in the book—and one that comes up again and again—is that you should not bargain over positions. This is, of course, what most people imagine when they hear the word “negotiate.” One party makes a really low offer; the other party makes a high offer. Then they go back-and-forth, each trying to stay as close to their starting spot as possible. Indeed, this is how most people negotiate.

But that isn’t the only way to negotiate and really isn’t the best way either. Fisher and Ury in Getting to Yes set forth four points that form the foundation of what they call “principled negotiation on the merits.”

Separate the People from the Problem

The authors point out the obvious but often forgotten point that negotiators are, in fact, people first. They are not just abstract representatives or robots; they are human beings. And this “human aspect of negotiation can be either helpful or disastrous.” You can’t forget the human aspect to negotiating. Read their book for more insights on how to separate the “people from the problem.”

Focus on Interests, Not Positions

The idea to focus on interests rather than positions is particularly important. The position offered by one side is their strategic conclusion that is likely informed by their interests, but does not tell their entire story. By going underneath their position and seeking to understand the other side’s interests—along with your own—you can brainstorm solutions that might best satisfy both parties’ interests. This is the classic win/win—the wise solution.

This sort of analysis, which may be done before the actual negotiation, offers the opportunity to add overall value as the parties’ interests may not be as diametrically opposed as a positional-negotiating strategy would suggest.

Invent Options for Mutual Gain

This next principle follows naturally from the prior principle of focusing on interests not positions. Once you understand each party’s interests, you brainstorm options or solutions that will address them. As you will soon learn, it isn’t a zero-sum game. You might discover options that go a long ways toward satisfying each party’s interests.

At this stage, you should separate inventing options from deciding—so you can think more broadly and creatively—and look for opportunities for mutual gain.

Insist on Using Objective Criteria

Of course, no matter how effectively you follow the principles above, you still may fail to find a solution that completely reconciles the parties’ conflicting interests. When that happens, don’t just resort to positional bargaining, volleying numbers back and forth.

Instead, look for objective criteria that the parties can agree upon to decide any remaining conflicts. Perhaps you hire an appraiser to determine a particular value. Or look for procedural solutions, like heirs taking turns, one-by-one, in picking heirlooms rather than dividing them collectively. Or agree on a mediator or arbitrator. Or consider any other number of objective approaches that could apply to the issue.

Other Insights from the Book

You might try to follow principled negotiation as Ury and Fisher describe, but find the other side trying to thwart your approach because they are (1) more powerful; (2) won’t play; or (3) use dirty tricks.

Don’t worry: the authors have a chapter for each of these problems, along with detailed answers to ten questions that people often ask about the book Getting to Yes.

For example, if the other side is more powerful, it is particularly important to develop your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). If you can’t achieve a better result than your BATNA, you know you should walk way. Indeed, if you know that the other side is more powerful and have doubts about a satisfactory agreement, you might utilize resources improving your BATNA.


This relatively short book is worth reading. It is a foundational text about negotiating that ought to benefit you in some way, even if you don’t consider yourself to be in a position where you are officially negotiating. Everyone negotiates and the book Getting to Yes will help you do it better.

We would love to hear about your experiences using these and other negotiation methods. Please share them in the comments below.

photo credit: Getting to YES! via photopin (license)