Fisher´s and Ury´s “Getting to Yes”, first published in 1981, describes the best practise of negotiation and discusses its findings from research. This essay will examine to what extent their statement, “many consider it a good tactic not to give the other side’s case too much attention, and not to admit any legitimacy in their point of view. A good negotiator does just the reverse” (Fisher and Ury 1991, p.6), is valid and what the limitations, of the best practice suggested, are.
Negotiation is a big factor of everyday life reaching from informal discussions about what to have for breakfast with yourself or your partner, to serious issues like buying a house off a stranger and haggling about the price or debating a wage raise with your boss in work. Since everyone uses it there are many different opinions on how it should be defined as a pure concept. Gavin Kennedy (1998) suggested that it should be viewed as a “process by which we search terms to obtain what we want from somebody who wants something from us.” (Kennedy 1998, p. 6) Examining this definition, it seems to mainly look at the formal and serious negotiations that people have with their bosses over money or support. Regarding contemporary definitions of the concept, the oxforddictionary (2017) decided to shorten the definition. It simplifys Kennedy´s (1998) big and serious sounding explanation to a “Discussion aimed at reaching an agreement” (oxforddictionary 2017). Considering Fisher´s and Ury´s (2012) “Gettingg to Yes”, this is the closest up-to-date definition, as they simply want you to get what you want from others. Bringing these all together and finding a middle way to go with, Cambridgedictionary (2017) defines Negotiation as “The process of discussing something with someone in order to reach an agreement with them” (cambridgedictionary 2017). This definition is easy to apply to the different situations that can be either informal or formal and picks up on the fact that a negotiation is rarely a one off discussion (Fisher and Ury 2012).
Following that Negotiations are more than a discussion and a standalone event, Patton (Moffit and Bordong 2005) identified seven elements that influence every negotiation. These are Interests, Legitimacy, Relationship, Alternatives and BATNA, Options, Commitments and Communication. As all these elements on its own provide the opportunity to write a book about them, this essay will focus on two of the elements that Fisher and Ury (1991) address in their statement under examination here.
Firstly Patton´s (Moffit and Bordong 2005) element of Legitimacy, describing the sense of fairness in a negotiation. It regards the process as well as the outcome of what is being negotiated. He uses the example of the ultimatum game in which Person A receives 10$ and can split it in any way between them and a stranger, with the limitation that they only get to take the money home if person B agrees to the deal suggested by person A. Logically any split (even 9,99$ for A and 0,01$ for B) would bring both parties into a positive, but the outcome implied that most participants would rather get nothing than an unfair split (Moffit and Bordong 2005). Relating the research to the scenario of one side not acknowledging the legitimacy of the other party`s side, the negotiation is endangered. The side that feels unfairly treated has the power to stop the negotiation and make both parties lose rather than agreeing to the suggested deal (Moffit and Bordong 2005, Fisher and Ury 2012).
Secondly Patton (Moffit and Bordong 2005) identified Communication as the major influencer of Negotiation. The way we interact with the other party and how we get our point across in a way that leads to an agreement is the most important factor in a negotiation. Fisher and Ury (2012) agree with this, as they believe that communication is not only about how we talk, but also about listening and interacting with the other side´s point of view and showing that we understand their demands. This seventh element is described by Patton (Moffit and Bordong 2005), as the one that leads the two parties into agreement, while dealing with all the other six elements.
Having started to identify Behaviours of a good negotiator the following paragraph will show how Fisher and Ury (2012) and other academics see good negotiators and their behaviours. Going into negotiations Fisher and Ury (2012), Thompson (2014) and Cates (2016) all recognise that preparation is a hugely important part of a negotiation. Fisher and Ury´s (2012) “Insist on objective criteria” (Fisher and Ury 2012, Cover) suggests that a negotiator should always focus on facts rather than speculations or statements. This means that while asking the other party for their underlying research and facts you should always be prepared, to be asked the same questions. Thompson (2014) agrees and further adds that seeing the other side´s point is important within the negotiation itself, but can be helpful even in the preparation for it to see what arguments the other party may bring up.
Returning to the subject of communication, Cates (2016) introduces the importance of reading the room and understanding the other party´s intentions by listening actively and observing what is being said. This active listening is a big part of Fisher´s and Ury´s (2012) Philosophy when looking at the examined statement made at the beginning of this essay. They believe a good negotiator listens actively and acknowledges what was said to make sure the other party knows they were understood. So while adding to Patton´s (Moffit and Bordong 2005) seventh element, Cates (2016) agrees in all points with Fisher and Ury (2012) that a good negotiator listens closely to the other party. This assures that discussions between both parties are held openly and that both side´s points are equally important in the negotiation.
Following up on how a negotiator should behave in general, it is important to see that every negotiator can have a different approach towards a negotiation. Following Fisher´s and Ury´s publication in 1981, Pruitt (1982) formed the dual concern model. Such an approach relates to Fisher´s and Ury´s (2012) best practise of a win-win solution through open discussion and the good behaviours they described previously. The dual concern model states that a negotiator´s preference should be on the ground of both parties achieving their goals. Olekalns and Adir (2013) agree that negotiators can have this kind of approach and call it cooperative approach. This is in line with Fisher and Ury (2012) saying that a good negotiator should listen, acknowledge legitimacy and give the other side time to explain their point of view. On the opposite end is Olekalns` and Adir´s (2013) competitive approach. This means that the negotiator focuses on achieving the goals they set out for themselves and trying to keep the other side´s demands unfulfilled. A set way to negotiate can lead to different outcomes depending on how the other side reacts to your actions and what approach they chose. The competitive one does not follow the best practise identified by Fisher and Ury (2012), Pruitt (1982) and Olekalns and Adir (2013). This is why outcomes of a competitive negotiator are often uncertain.
These different outcomes were evaluated by different academics throughout the years. Katz and Lawyer identified the five different outcomes, in their model from 1985, as either Yielding, Withdrawing, Compromising, Problem solving and Contending (Ramsbotham 2011). These five were simplified in the zero-sum or non-zero sum model found in the Merriam Webster dictionary (2017) which describes them as:
Yielding – Win/Lose (Competitive/Positional)
Withdrawal – Lose/Lose
Comromising – Win some lose some/ Win some lose some
Contending – Lose/Win
Problem solving – Win/Win (Cooperative/Principled)
Ramsbotham (2011), following up on the Katz and Lawyer model, identifies the problem solving/cooperative tactic as the go-to approach for good negotiators (Fisher and Ury call this approach principled negotiation). He labelled the same characteristics as best practise, stipulating with the authors mentioned before (Fisher and Ury 2012, Pruitt 1982, Olekanlns and Adir 2013). In his research he found that communication (Patton`s 7th element) is the key to a good negotiation and here he puts emphasis on the fact that listening actively is a major part of communication. On the other hand he describes the Yielding/Win-Lose/competitive approach, which is identified as positional bargaining by Fisher and Ury (2012), as the one which people associate the most with negotiation and which is used often because it is easier to use than the problem solving or cooperative approach (Ramsbotham 2011, Fisher and Ury 2012, Pruitt 1982, Olekanlns and Adir 2013). Engaging in discussions competitively you are likely to be opposed by one of the four outcomes that make at least one party lose, outlined above.
This opposing issue of competitive/positional negotiation leads to the limitations of the use of the cooperative approach. While Fisher and Ury (2012) alongside others identified cooperation as best practise, it does not work in all situations. In relation to the statement examined in this essay, sometimes the competitive approach can be helpful and it is not necessary for one party to fully understand the reasons of why the other party thinks differently. Therefore not always does a good negotiator have to give much attention to the other side´s opinion or admit the legitimacy of their point.