'Getting to Yes' Notes

February 2024

Here some notes from the book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. It's a book on how to use principled negotiation to reach agreements that benefit all parties.

Don't bargain over positions

Focusing on positions means binding yourself in the negotiation to some "position". For example; "the lanlord", "the legal department", "your boss". Positional bargaining leads to the parties just being more strongly tied to their position, and in-case the outcome doesn't favor them, it feels like their identity has taken a hit. Because of this it is important to avoid negotiating based on positions, but instead based on interests.

The book tells the story of a nearly deadly dispute between farmers and the national oil company in Iraq, where focusing on interests instead of positions prevented any bloodshed.

Displaced farmers in Iraq had banded together and leased arable land from the government, and used their savings and borrowings to plant crops. A few months later, the farmers were told to vacate the premises, because oil had been discovered under it. This was allowed according to the lease agreement. The oil company told the farmers to "get off our land", but the farmers wouldn't leave. The oil company called the police, but the farmers held their positions and said "there are more of us". The oil company then threatened to bring in the army, to which the farmers responded that they had guns too, and they weren't leaving."We have nothing left to lose." Both parties were deeply focused on their position, and their position being the "correct one".

After tensions had been rising, a negoatiator came in, focused on using principled negotiation, focusing on interests. He sought to understand the underlying interests between both parties, asking the oil company

Q: How long will it be before you expect to produce oil on this land?
A: Probably three years.
Q: What do you plan on doing on the land over the next few months?
A: Mapping, and a little seismic surveying of the underground layers.

Q: What's the problem with leaving now, as they've asked?
A: The harvest is in six weeks. It represents everything we own.

The negotiator immediately understood, that the harvest was important for the farmers, and that the oil company didn't even plan on starting drilling before that harvest.

Focusing on these underlying interests instead of positions, the parties were able to reach an agreement. The farmers could harvest their crops to get their earnings back. The oil company was able to start their preparatory activities immediately, without interference from the farmers. The oil company even hoped to hire many of the farmers to help with the new construction, and the farmers could plant crops in between oil derricks.

A much wiser outcome was reached as a result of not clinging on to positions, but exploring the underlying interests behind the positions.

Focus on interests, not positions

In a negotiation, its all parties against the problem, not each other. "Be hard on the problem, soft on the people"

Involve all stakeholders of a decision on the negotiating process. People are more likely to accept agreement if they feel like they were part of the process.

Recognize the other sides interests as valid. Give positive support to the human beings on the other side equal to your own problem. This creates cognitive dissonance, which make the other side dissociate himself from the problem and want to do something to solve it.

Invent options for mutual gain

The case of Israel and Egypt negotiating over who should keep the Sinai Peninsula, Israel COULD NOT withdraw and leave with nothing, while Egypt COULD NOT accept losing sovereignty. They realized that Israel just wanted there to not be any military, while Egypt wanted it to be sovereign land, so they agreed to have it demilitarized.

Avoid using compromisses as the starting point for reaching agreements. Only compromise after all other options have been explored. This is because compromising leads to money being left on the table. For example; 2 people want to have a the same orange fruit. They agree to compromise, and split it in half. The other person eats the fruit, and throws away the peel, the other throws away the fruit, and uses the peel for baking a cake. These differing interests would have allowed the people to dovetail but instead, they compromised and both got less.

Separate inventing from deciding. Invent creative solutions that satisfy the interests of the parties, before deciding which one to agree on. You can brainstorm options with your own and even the opposing side. Broaden your options, optionality makes for a better agreement for all parties involved.

Insist on using objective criteria

Using objective criteria forces all parties to not focus on positional bargaining, but instead focus on the objective criteria, and thus find a more fair agreement. Find objective criteria such as market standards, market prices, building code standards that all parties can agree on, before starting the negotiating process.

What to do when the opposing part is more powerful?

Avoid using bottom lines such as "the lowerst we will sell our house for is 260K". You might set the bottom line overly optimistically, not based on market rates or the current market conditions. Ignoring all offers below your bottom line can be detrimental, since you won't negotiate with anyone even when a good agreement could be made.

Develop your BATNA — Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. The most powerful thing you can have in a negotiation is the ability to walk away without losing anything. If you're interviewing for a job, and already have many offers from different companies, your BATNA is strong. Having good alternatives for walking away from a negotiation gives you power over even a much more powerful negotiator. You come up with these by thinking of all the other possible actions you would take if no agreement is reached, improve on them and pick the best one. In an agreement it's also important to consider the opposing side's BATNA, and look for ways of making it less strong.

What to do when the other party doesnt want to "play"?

When the opposing side stays firm on positions, doesn't want to entertain trying to find joint interests, try to find the motivations behind their positions, try to understand the interests behind their positions. For example for a salary increase, asking; "based on what did you come up with that figure", "is it comparable to what competing companies are offering?", focusing on the objective metrics, and interests.

Deflect possible personal attacks back on the problem. Don't defend yourself or attack them. Recast their attack on you as an attack on the problem. For example; In the case of striking for school's teachers; "When you say that a strike shows we don't care about the children, I hear your concern about the children's education. I want you to know that we share this concern: they are our children and our students. We want the strike to end so we can go back to educating them. What can we both do now to reach an agreement as quickly as possible?"

Silence is strong in a negotiation. Ask questions and pause. If you ask a question and they attack you instead of answer the question, just stay silent. They will feel impelled to either answer your question or make a new suggestion.

Cosider the one-text procedure. Getting a third party to understand the interests of all parties, write up a draft agreement, and inviting criticism from all parties, refining the draft until you have a draft everyone can agree with. This method was used by the US at the Camp David Summit in September 1978 when mediating between Egypt and Israel. It was also used at the Law of the Sea negotiations and for parts of the South African constitutional negotations that ended apartheid.

Understand and empathize with the opposing party

in a negotiation, some of the highest "ROI" things are saying things that cost you nothing, for example; "I appreciate your position" or "I understand where youre coming from". Show appreciation, truly try to understand them. Make sure they feel heard. These will disarm the opposing side and make it feel like you're not against each other, but rather the problem.

What to do when the opposing party uses dirty tactics?

Use principled negotiation to negotiate the rules of the game. Acknowledge their use of dirty tactics, and suggest negotiating on good faith, and based on objective criteria and mutual gain.

Dirty tactics include: dubious intentions, phony facts, ambiguous authority (the person you're negoating with doesnt really have full autority over the negotiation), lock in tactics (taking a hard stance, and keeping pushing forward because they can no longer change their stance), hardhearted partner (good cop / bad cop esque, a bit same as ambiguous authority), calculated delay.