021-Getting to Yes: Negotiation for non-negotiators (part 1 of 2)

021-Getting to Yes: Negotiation for non-negotiators (part 1 of 2)

Negotiation is part of what we do every day – from negotiating for the best project resources to negotiating what you and your significant other are going to have for dinner. But for those of us who don’t feel like natural negotiators, how can we learn to negotiate in a way that helps us address our needs while not risking the long term relationships?

That’s where the Harvard Negotiation Project comes in! One of our favorite business books, “Getting to Yes,” is a quick and easy read which can give you some great tools to help negotiation in business and life. We love it so much, we thought we’d talk you through some of the amazing content here.

We will cover some of the main points in Getting to Yes in our next two episodes. In this episode, we talk through the method. And in the next episode, we’ll talk about how to overcome some typical challenges to negotiation and the method.

We hope you dig this enough to go out and get your own copy of this great book! (No, we aren’t getting paid to say that – we just really dig it and want to support the authors.)


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We love to hear about your tough PM issues, so please hit us up at podcast@pmhappyhour.com and we’ll see if we can help you. If we use your question, we’ll send you a PM Happy Hour coaster you can enjoy at your next happy hour.

Check out this episode!

Show Notes

Getting to Yes! [4:14]

Getting to Yes! is a book written by Roger Fisher and William Ury, and is part of the Harvard Negotiation project, which deals with issues of negotiation and conflict resolution.

The mission of the Harvard Negotiation Project (HNP) is to improve the theory and practice of conflict resolution and negotiation by working on real-world conflict intervention, theory building, education and training, and writing and disseminating new ideas.

Principled Negotiation [5:30]

Our goal is Principled Negotiation- we are looking for a win-win situation. This technique works best if you negotiate with people who you want to maintain a long-term relationship with or build a partnership with.

The quality of a negotiation can be judged by three criteria:

  1. Should produce a wise agreement (if an agreement is possible)
  2. It should be efficient
  3. It should improve, or at least not damage the relationship

The Problem with Positions [7:08]

The typical negotiation process is a battle of POSITIONS: Each party will take a position and will bicker back and forth, trying to get the other person to take a different position, until one of them who has the mightiest will, best tricks, or started with the most ridiculous position wins. This is key to the whole strategy that was discussed by the authors of Getting to Yes! – how to get past the positions and interests that need to be addressed. The longer both parties push back and forth, the deeper they get in their positions, and the harder it is for them to change without losing face. This is the point when egos are getting involved, and both are paying less attention to the actual interests they have at stake.

Bargaining over positions de-incentivizes people to make an agreement. The more rooted they are in a position, the more they will think of the importance of showing grit and sticking to their position than come to an agreement. If you want to get to an agreement with positional bargaining, you will either have to play it ‘soft’ and give a lot, or play ‘hard’ ball and kick the crap out of the other party,

The Harvard Negotiation Project looked at these strategies – if it was better to go in Hard or Soft – and their answer was: Neither.

Hence, they came up with a Method which has 4 parts.

Method 1: Separate PEOPLE from the PROBLEM [13:28]

It is natural for us to become personally involved with the problem we’re negotiating about. After all, we probably have something personal at stake. But this is where the real problems happen. If we tie the person and the problem together, then the damage is inevitable.

Techniques for separating the people from the problem:

  1. Perception

The way the other person is thinking about the problem, even if you totally don’t agree with it, is the root of the problem. Which is why viewing the world as the other person sees it is the most valuable skill of a negotiator. You don’t have to agree with the other party, but you have to understand and respect their point of view and how they feel.

  1. Emotion

In a high stakes negotiation, emotions are going to have an impact. Thus, strive to understand the emotions – YOURS and the other party. Emotions are legitimate and you need to put them on the table, talk about them, and address them.

People need to be heard. The challenge is letting them be heard, and not letting the scene descend into chaos from all emotional energy charged in the room. Asking questions is a good start to understanding the emotion: Why am I angry? Why are they angry?

  1. Communication

Even if we are speaking the same language, we have a different understanding of things. So, take the time to ask questions and listen. When the emotions are high, you need to combat your natural inclination to wait for your turn to talk. Communication is mostly about listening- we communicate to understand. Please note, that understanding is not agreeing. We are in this weird place right now where it feels like if you try to understand the other side it is a weakness. It’s not – it is strength.

Prevention is the best medicine for getting caught up in all this – by building a good, trusting relationship.

Method 2: Focus on INTERESTS, not POSITIONS [29:58]

Interests define the real problem, not the positions. We need to focus on the interest, and figure out the positions by asking the Why questions – Why do you have that position? Why do I have this position?

An agreement can often be found because our interests are different. The most powerful interests are often the most human – think of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

Method 3: Invent OPTIONS for mutual gain [34:24]

Creatively invents options for mutual gain. If negotiation is about dividing a pie – why not make the pie bigger? We shouldn’t assume the “pie” is fixed.

When you have a few ideas for mutual gain, look through them and figure out how you can make them an easy decision for the other side. Make it easy for them to say “YES.”

Inventing options can be discussed while brainstorming. However, do not confuse ‘inventing’ and deciding’- just because we are going to sit down and try to brainstorm some ideas (maybe by ourselves, maybe with the other side), doesn’t mean that every idea we put down is something we will agree with.

General Tips for Brainstorming

  • Be open-minded to new/weird ideas (yes and!)
  • Decide if you are going to brainstorm by yourselves or with the other side
  • Change the scope/break the rules a bit
  • Bring in experts or other people with different POV

Method 4:  Insist on using OBJECTIVE CRITERIA [41:00]

As much as you try to be creative, you may find that you absolutely have conflicting interests. In these cases, Getting to Yes has a solution – decide on the basis of objective criteria. This means finding a ‘fair’ way to judge a good solution. Leverage your PM chops and all your technical PM processes to be that ‘fair’ decider:

  • Charter
  • Scope
  • Steerco
  • Risk management processes, etc

If you can use objective criteria, there’s no need for positions. Some examples are:

  • Best practice
  • Market value
  • Precedent
  • Scientific judgment
  • Professional standards
  • Efficiency
  • Cost
  • What a court would decide

At a minimum, the objective criteria need to be independent of the will of either side. If you cannot find an objective, independent criteria, then you can use an objective process. For example, the old trick when two kids want to share a piece of cake: One kid cuts it, and the other one gets to pick which piece. This strategy lets you approach negotiation as a search for fair criteria that can be agreed to.

Takeaways [49:00]

Key Probing Questions

  • Are you arguing about positions or interests?
  • WHY do they have this position?
  • WHY do I have this position?
  • Can we make this pie bigger?
  • What objective criteria can we use?

You may be in trouble if…

  • There is no separation between people and problems – and that giving on a position is seen as a slight against the person
  • You don’t understand WHY the other party is asking for what they are asking for. Don’t assume you know.

Principles for Success

  • Work together against a common problem
  • Separate people from the problem
  • Understand the other person’s interests – and how they are feeling. Understanding does not equal agreeing, but it shows respect.

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    Kim Essendrup

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