Getting to Yes | The Art of Negotiation

Every man should know how to negotiate. Ever been in a tough situation and not known how to cut a deal that is right for both parties? It’s time to learn about getting to yes.

These principles are taken from the book Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher. A favorite book of mine that was crucial to my leadership journey. Whether it was arguing with a roommate about splitting the bill for a broken microwave, or working on $20,000 contracts, I would have been blind in those situations without knowing about “getting to yes.”

1. Positional Bargaining vs. Principled Negotiation

Each party identify their interests and discuss them together.

People tend to enter negotiations from a firm position. They may defend that position to the death, just so they can be “right” even if a greater resolution comes along.

We want to approach the table with principled negotiation in mind. Not a firm position to present. What are the felt needs? What do both parties need in order for this negotiation to work.

Come to the table not with your position, but with the principles that most need to be fulfilled. And listen to what they need fulfilled as well. Once both parties really understand each other’s needs, and are willing to team together, you should be able to come to a helpful resolution.

Together, both parties should be soft on people, hard on the problem.

2. Separating People and Issues

Getting to yes takes focusing on the issues at hand. Not heated exchanges or character attacks. Separate the issues-and your feelings-from the people involved. This is a true saying: cooler heads prevail. If you keep your cool, people will respect you. That only helps you gain favor.

Separate the people problems below from the actual issues at hand.

Emotions-people are so entrenched in their position they take opposition as a personal attack.

Perceptions-conflict comes from differing interpretations of the facts. If you can establish and agree what the facts are, regardless of personal preference, you can help create a baseline to continue to refer to.

Communication-pretending to listen while actually just preparing your response. People sometimes do this to cater to their constituencies (i.e. the people who gave them that job).

3. Try to make proposals that are appealing to both sides, that both sides can support.

“Getting to Yes” puts a premium on listening, not arguing for the sake of winning. If the other side is playing dirty and not offering a proposal appealing to both sides, tell them. And ask for them to offer something both sides can support.

4. Think of each other as partners rather than adversaries

Focus on interests rather than positions. People hold tight to positions. But ultimately what you’re looking for is the fulfillment of your interest, regardless of whether your initial position is fulfilled.

Getting to Yes

Billy Hunter (left)-Known to manipulate to make the NBA Players Union happy.

If you keep negotiating win-lose scenarios, you’ll eventually make suppliers feel taken advantage of. And they’ll no longer be able to fulfill your requests. I once was working with a radio station for a 200 radio spot contract. It was a significant amount of my marketing budget. The salesperson and I had a genuinely good connection. He really believed in the product and was supportive. He gave us a KILLER deal. But the next year when I returned wanting the same deal, the pricing doubled. I expected prices to increase, but not that much. I ended up speaking with the station manager and he said, “Hey, this guy helped you guys out too much. We just can’t continue to do that.”

5. Use Objective Criteria, not emotionally charged opinion.

What’s on your paper?..That secret list of “musts” that includes all the pressure and expectations back home.

Because knowledge is power people often withhold information. But to let someone know the pressure you face with your boss, the expectations you must fulfill, the needs behind your interests–doesn’t make your position weaker–but stronger. Once negotiators have invested a lot of time, and even emotion, in these discussions, they are less likely to deadlock or quit. Because of this mutual investment, they want to come to a resolution.

Getting to Yes

Mission Accomplished: Got A Yes

Getting to Yes

Don’t be discouraged or intimidated when it’s time to negotiate. Know what your needs are, and don’t be fearful of not meeting some “bottom line.” Don’t aim for a quick fix or make crazy demands. Simply walk in ready to team together for a “getting to yes” journey. If they aren’t willing to jump on the getting to yes train, then let them know. Be honest what your needs are, and kindly shoot down emotionally charged opinion by asking for objective criteria.

Check out another great synopsis of Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In here.


  1. Negotiating definitely is an important skill to master. Far too many people fall short in this area though. I like the tips that you’ve provided though, especially the part in #5 about explaining your pressures and needs. If you show that you’re not just trying to be greedy, the other side is far more likely to compromise. It was embarrassing how poorly a job I did on negotiating my car price, but over the years I’ve learned a lot more with practice. Now I try to look at things from their side too and see how I can make them satisfied.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Agreed. I don’t think it’s hard to “learn” more about negotiating, but these skills are hard to cultivate. You know when you need to confront someone on a tough issue and it’s hard to work up the gusto to do so? I think sometimes people feel the same way about negotiating. It’s too much stress or effort for them to really try hard at. And that negotiation muscle just won’t grow.

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