Getting to Yes by Fisher, Ury and Patton Book Review


“…it was informative, easy to understand, short, and extremely well organized. It shifted my perspective and challenged my behaviour. We all need that every now and then.”

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This is a book review for “Getting to Yes”, Third Edition by by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton of the Harvard Negotiation Project. This book, originally published in 1981 by the Houghton Mifflin Company, was republished by Penguin Books in 1983, followed by a second edition in 1991, and the third edition in 2011.

What is negotiation?

As it is spelled out in the introduction, negotiation is getting what you want from others. I know, that is blunt and self-centred way of putting it. So bear with me.

The authors note, negotiation used to be viewed as a win or lose situation with one party coming out a winner and the other a loser. One person getting what they want from someone else. However, it is increasingly recognized that win-win situations are possible and often yield a better outcome than alternatives.

This is an important reason why you should add negotiation skills to your conflict resolution and communications toolset. The best case in a conflict scenario is when both parties are able to achieve a win. Many conflicts originate from a perceived win-lose scenario to begin with.

However, the point is not to avoid or eliminate conflict. Conflict can be a source of opportunity, better understanding, innovation, and new relationships. The authors want to see negotiation transformed from “adversarial battles” to “collaborative problem solving”.

So, getting to yes does not mean using conflict to benefit at someone else’s expense, it means addressing conflict collaboratively and identifying solutions that satisfy interests of both parties more effectively than could be realized through positional bargaining – or haggling. In doing so, you could uncover opportunities not available otherwise, enhance your network and develop good working relationships with long-term benefits.

What does Getting to Yes promise the reader?

This book is intended to be a guide to principled negotiation. It is not a one size fits all approach, but they do argue it is a one size fits most approach. Every tool is not designed for any and every scenario but are incredibly valuable additions to your communications toolset. It is short, and easy to read. The authors have carefully put together the material in an organized way, offering tool after tool in an organized, easy to find fashion.

On a higher level, this book intends to play a role in the paradigm shift from the old school adversarial perception of negotiation in the public sphere to a collaborative one. It does this by emphasizing the benefits of negotiating on merits, principle, collaboration and objective standards – innovation, efficiency, effectiveness, fairness, and relationships.

How does it deliver this promise?

Getting to Yes is exceptionally well organized. It first sets out identifying the problem. It states that your method of negotiation should be assessed with three criteria; (1) it should result in a wise agreement (meets the legitimate interests of both sides, is fair, durable and takes the community into account), (2) be efficient and (3) improve relationships between the parties. It breaks down hard negotiating and soft negotiating stating their pros and cons before offering a solution, Principled Negotiation. They argue that Principled Negotiation meets the criteria better than positional bargaining.

There are four main focus points of Principled Negotiation: (1) separating the people from the problem, (2) focusing on interests, not positions, (3) inventing many mutually beneficial options and (4) using objective standards.

Each of these four points is given its own chapter, where the authors provide tools and advice to support you.

The next few chapters address questions and criticisms of the book’s earlier editions. For example, one glaring questions is what if the other side is more powerful? The response given is empowering. It makes you realize that power is not just about wealth and resources, you have power if you know how to use or build it. For example, there is power in relationships, effective communication, understanding interests, objective standards, collaboration and of course, your BATNA (or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). It gives you tips on how to neutralize dirty tricks, play negotiation jujitsu and protect yourself. The second half of the book is just as engaging and riveting as the first half, if not even more.

… Wait, did I say negotiation jujitsu? Yes, read the book and find out.

Impact the book had on me

Like me, after reading this book, you may become more thoughtful in how you interact with others. After reading this book, I see inefficiencies and division where I didn’t before, restricting our ability to be more productive. I see opportunities for collaborative solutions where I could have easily seen a fight.

Attacking each other wont solve the worlds problems, it polarizes people. We need to attack the problem – “separate the people from the problem” as the authors assert. If you convince one person with your attacks, it is likely that you are locking in others.

My perception changed after this book to be more inclusive to others. I am more informed. I can now better align my behaviour with my goals. By no means did I become an excellent negotiator just by reading this book, but now I have many tools I can apply and practice in my daily life, and career. I think books like this should be read in public-school, so the next generation comes out with meaningful life skills beyond what our current curriculum offers. So they are less polarizing than we are, so they can learn to collaborate and be sensitive and more inclusive to others. So they can innovate a better world that we did.

Favourite part

The authors want you to get to yes through collaboration and frame-switching between the other party’s perspective and your own. It does this by encouraging it explicitly through the first main element of the Principled Negotiation method. Rather than treating negotiation as a shrewd competition for whoever gets the better end of the agreement, it approaches negotiation as a collaborative decision-making process. It emphasizes the value of good working relationships which translates to more efficient negotiations and other benefits as well. I would argue some benefits could be less emotionally drained staff, added meaning to jobs, corporate social responsibility, personal social responsibility, and of course the identification of opportunities that would not be available otherwise.

There was a lot of reinforcement of ideas throughout the book. Which I found helpful, discussing pieces of advice in various contexts. The notion of collaboration was ingrained throughout.

Favorite quotes

“People often see the negotiating as narrowing the gap between positions, not broadening the options available”

“the relative negotiating power of two parties depends primarily on how attractive to each is the option of not reaching an agreement”

“If the other side has big guns, don’t turn the negotiation into a gun fight”

“Base the relationship on mutually understood perceptions, clear two-way communication, expressing emotion without blame, and a forward-looking purposive outlook.”

”Making assumptions about someone based on their group characteristics is insulting, as well as factually risky. It denies that person their individuality. We do not assume that our beliefs or habits are dictated by the groups we happen to fit; to imply that of others is demeaning. Each of us is affected by the myriad aspects of our environment and upbringing, our culture and group identity, but in no individually predictable way”

“Make emotions explicit and acknowledge them as legitimate.”

Least favourite part

Often lacks the context of intercultural conflict. However, they do address this criticism at the end of the book and in various places scattered throughout and they do it well. In fact, almost every criticism I had was addressed somewhere. The fact is that negotiation in the context of intercultural conflict deserves its own book, and is not the focus of what the authors have set out to do here. Many of my criticisms of the book I give solutions to. However, many of these solutions are both informed and inspired by the book.

My Criticisms

The authors assert that people who get angry, fearful, hostile or frustrated easily have big egos and frequently confuse their perceptions with reality, often failing to interpret what you say in the way you intended. I agree with this, however, it assumes that the reader is self-aware in this regard. For example, someone can seem easily frustrated where miscommunication occurs because negotiators (or mediators, consultants) fail to address cultural distance.

They go on to state that “where perceptions differ, look for ways to test assumptions and educate.” I agree that this is good advice, however, that is assuming that intercultural circumstances are accommodating. Some readers may misinterpret this advice. When cultural biases dominate your perception and cultural distance resulted in the differing perceptions, do not let a negotiation become a war of facts. Where someone passionately believes something that contradicts your science, or what you perceive to be true, do not just tell them why they are wrong and you are right by turning the negotiation into a lecture.

A classic example is the clashing of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) with western science. Where this is at the core of a dispute, don’t say why traditional knowledge is wrong and western science is right. Instead, learn their views, let them speak, identify goals and interests, then build joint solutions that align with both perspectives. This can create opportunities, innovate and develop good working relationships.

If you are the one testing the others’ assumptions and educating, it assumes that you have a more accurate depiction of reality than the other party. Test both party’s assumptions allowing fair opportunity for education. Be persuaded by new legitimate information. Give the other side ample time to change your perception as well, they may have valuable information that could alter your initial understanding. However illegitimate you initially view the other side’s perspective, be open and be collaborative. Do not turn the conversation into a fact war.

On the other hand, it may be true that the other side’s perspective is factually misinformed, demonstrably so. What can you do? Is it your job as a negotiator to change their world view? I am not convinced of this. Remember that fact wars will not help. Dont focus on the facts in this instance, focus on establishing objective criteria on which to find an agreement to meet both party’s underlying interests, not positions.


In conclusion I loved this book. I gave it 5/5 because it was informative, easy to understand, short, and extremely well organized. It shifted my perspective and challenged my behaviour. We all need that every now and then.

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What I think would be more interesting than my opinions is to hear yours. If you have any thoughts, ideas, feedback or questions, please share them in the comment section below.

3 thoughts on “Getting to Yes by Fisher, Ury and Patton Book Review

  1. Pingback: Principled Negotiation – Interest Peaks

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