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Getting to Yes PDF Summary


Getting to Yes is a book as applicable today as it was almost 40 years ago when it was published. The book describes how to negotiate effectively based on research by the Harvard Negotiation Project. Specifically, Getting to Yes outlines a step-by-step strategy for coming to mutual agreements. Firstly, Getting to Yes presents four principles for effective negotiation. These principles should be applied to all types of negotiation. Then, three common obstacles are showcased to exemplify how you can adapt to and overcome challenges despite following the four principles.

About Roger Fisher

Roger Fisher was a Samuel Williston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Additionally, while alive, he was the director of the Harvard Negotiation Project. 

About William Ury

William Ury is an American author, academic, anthropologist, and negotiation expert. William Ury is one of the co-founders of the Harvard Program on Negotiation. Additionally, he worked alongside former US president Jimmy Carter on the International Negotiation Network.

About Bruce Patton

The most recent publication of Getting to Yes, released in 2011, includes Bruce Patton as a co-author. This 2011 version is the focus of this book summary. Bruce Patton is an American author who wrote the international bestseller Difficult Conversations. Plus, he also works on the Harvard Negotiation Project. 

The Four Fundamentals of Principled Negotiations

Separating People and Issues

The first principle proposed by the authors relates to adopting an objective approach to negotiations. You should not be influenced by the person you are negotiating with. Instead, you must separate the people you are negotiating with from the issues. You also have to separate yourself from the viewpoint you are defending, though. Separating yourself from the issues will help prevent you from seeing objections to your position as a personal attack. Additionally, if you separate people from the issues, you will avoid damaging your relationships with the person you are negotiating.

The Three Basic People Problems

“The ability to see the situation as the other side sees it, as difficult as it may be, is one of the most important skills a negotiator can possess.”

– Roger Fisher


The first problem that can arise between two people is differences in perception. Often conflicts are differences in interpretation of the facts. Therefore, you must understand the other person’s viewpoint. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. On top of this, you should not blame the other person for the problem and instead suggest proposals appealing to both sides.


The second problem that often arises is emotions. Although negotiating is portrayed as being cold and calculated, this isn’t usually the case. Instead, negotiations can be very frustrating for both sides. This frustration is especially common if people do not separate people and issues. Individuals can feel their interests are being threatened, leading to the typical emotional responses of fear and anger. The best way to deal with these emotions is to acknowledge and understand why you or the other person feel this way. Both sides must acknowledge the emotions involved in the negotiations. Do not dismiss the other person’s emotions as unreasonable. Instead, talk about why these emotions have arisen. Arguably the best solution to extreme emotions is apologies or expressions of sympathy.

“People listen better if they feel that you have understood them. They tend to think that those who understand them are intelligent and sympathetic people whose own opinions may be worth listening to. So if you want the other side to appreciate your interests, begin by demonstrating that you appreciate theirs.”

– Roger Fisher


The final source of people’s problems is communication. You must listen to the other person. Instead of thinking about how you will respond while the person is talking, you should genuinely listen. Misunderstandings can still occur when somebody believes they are listening. You must listen and make sure you understand. You do not have to agree with their points, but you must understand them. The best type of listening to employ is active listening. Active listening involves giving the speaker full attention and occasionally summarizing the speaker’s points to ensure you fully understand. 

Focus on Interests

“Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide.”

– Roger Fisher and William Ury

The best negotiations focus on the interests of the included parties, as opposed to their positions. If your negotiations are focused on positions, then the conversation is framed around potential winners and losers of the dispute. You should ask the other party why they hold their positions. This question will push the conversation towards interests, and all people will share specific basic interests in life. For example, a need for security. It could be that their position is linked to this, and you can make a mutual connection. If you want the other party to take your interests into account, you must clearly explain your interests. Discussions should always be based on identifying the desired solution rather than focusing on past events. Focusing on interests will allow you to determine the desired solution. 

Generate Options

“Look for items that are of low cost to you and high benefit to them, and vice versa.”

– Roger Fisher and William Ury

For negotiations to thrive, there have to be potential options for solving the problem. The authors identify four clear obstacles to generating these options. Firstly, parties often fail to consider alternative options. Parties will either narrow in on a type of choice or will prematurely choose an option. Additionally, parties might define the problem as being win-lose. Equally, this can make openness to new options less likely. Finally, a party may decide it is up to the other side to develop a solution.

One solution to these obstacles is to separate the invention stage from the evaluation stage. Brainstorm with the other party and create as many possible solutions as possible. This type of session will allow you to both be as creative and productive as possible. Only after a wide range of ideas is available should both parties start considering which approach is best. At this point, the two parties should begin with the most promising proposals. Another solution is for the parties to focus on their shared interests, as spoken about earlier. The best options relate to a common interest for the parties. Finally, you should be seeking opportunities that are appealing to both sides. You want proposals to be highly beneficial for the other party and of low cost to you.

Use Objective Criteria

“As useful as looking for objective reality can be, it is ultimately the reality as each side sees it that constitutes the problem in a negotiation and opens the way to a solution.”

– Roger Fisher

It is not uncommon for the two parties to have directly opposed interests. Suppose this is the case, and you are struggling to find common ground. In that case, you should use objective criteria to resolve differences. Decisions based on logic will make it much easier for the two parties to agree and preserve a healthy relationship. 

Importantly, different objective criteria can be used. Each party must agree on which criteria they wish to adopt. The criteria should be legitimate and practical. Examples of objective criteria are scientific findings, professional standards, or legal precedent. The easiest way to understand this objective is to ask the other party to agree to these standards in all relevant circumstances. If objective criteria is identified, then the parties can create a procedure that solves the dispute. 

There are more effective ways you can approach objective criteria. Firstly, within a dispute, you should consider each issue as a shared objective criterion. Ask for the reasoning behind the other party’s ideas and be willing to answer any questions the other party has. You must also keep an open mind during the negotiations. If evidence supports these reasons, you should be willing to change your mind. Finally, if the other party is unwilling to be reasonable, you should not just give in. 

The Three Common Obstacles in Negotiations

When the Other Party Is More Powerful

Although the principles above are compelling, there are certain obstacles that the principles alone cannot overcome. Firstly, no negotiation method can account for differences in power that often exist between the two parties. 

If you are the weaker party, you do not want to develop bottom lines. Negotiators often establish bottom lines at the start of negotiations to protect themselves. These are the worst acceptable outcomes. The negotiator will decide to reject anything that goes below that line. However, the authors suggest bottom lines are a bad idea. You are creating this bottom line before discussions have even commenced. Therefore, the figure is simply arbitrary and not based on considering both parties’ views. Not to mention, if you create a bottom line, you are potentially inhibiting your willingness to develop new options to solve the dispute. 

The authors offer an alternative to bottom lines for the weaker parties. They call these BATNA. The Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. So, you should not choose a bottom line before. Instead, you should develop a BATNA that can be utilized according to how the negotiations have gone. Power in negotiations comes from a party’s ability to walk away without a worry. However, this means you are the more powerful party if you have the best BATNA. 

The authors suggest ways, as a weaker party, you can improve your alternatives to the negotiation. First, you must identify potential opportunities and respond appropriately to develop these opportunities. 

When the Other Party Won’t Use Principled Negotiation

“The reason you negotiate is to produce something better than the results you can obtain without negotiating.”

– Roger Fisher and William Ury

Another obstacle to an effective negotiation is when the other party abides by the four fundamentals spoken of above. The other party might not be open to new ideas, continually making personal attacks on you and only seeking to maximize their gains. There are three ways you can seek to deal with these types.

Adopt the Four Fundamentals

The first of the book’s tips is to adopt the four fundamentals yourself. Often this approach will be contagious. You’ll find that doing the right tasks will create a productive negotiation. 

Negotiation Jujitsu

Secondly, you can use something called negotiation jujitsu. This is an approach that should bring the other party in line. Refuse to respond to their approach to bargaining. Instead of seeking to counter-attack the other party’s poor behavior, you should bring the topic back to the problem. People who are positional bargainers will often either attack by asserting their position or attacking your ideas. If they bring up their position, you can simply ask them for the reasoning behind their ideas. This query will encourage a constructive conversation. Plus, if they attack your ideas, then you should just take it as constructive criticism. Asking questions and not responding to childish points will push the other party to behave more professionally. 

The On-Text Approach

The final approach is the on-text approach. This approach involves bringing a third party into the conversation. The third-party interviews each of the two parties to identify their interests then compiles a list. The two parties then look at the lists and provide comments on each list. The third-party writes up the comments, the parties redraft the ideas, and they are sent to the third party again. This process continues until the parties accept a refined offer or abandon negotiations.

When the Other Party Uses Dirty Tricks

Raise the Issue

As well as being difficult, the other party can sometimes use unethical approaches. These unethical tricks are used to gain an advantage in negotiations. The best way to respond to these tricks is to raise the issue explicitly. Do not let it impact your negotiations. Just make them aware that you have noticed and that you expect equal footing for the negotiations. 

Seek Verification

A common dirty trick is to lie or warp facts. You can easily overcome this by seeking verification of the other side’s claims, whether from them or through a third party. Do not call the other side a liar, though. Be professional and do your research. Additionally, the other party will sometimes use psychological warfare. They will make the negotiating environment stressful. To overcome this, you should offer solutions for a more comfortable alternative. 

Positional Pressure Tactics

The last trick often used is positional pressure tactics. The other party may attempt to structure the negotiations so that only one side can make concessions. For example, the other party may refuse to negotiate or open with very extreme demands. Recognize this for what it is and consider why they are refusing to negotiate. Give the other party a chance to explain why they are adopting this stance. Then, provide the other party with the opportunity to continue the negotiations in this way. Plus, give them the option of being more open. If they choose the former, you should both just provide ‘take it or leave it’ offers. 

“I have come to the conclusion that the greatest obstacle to getting what we really want in life is not the other party, as difficult as he or she can be. The biggest obstacle is actually ourselves.”

– William Ury

Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.

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