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Getting to Yes: Book Review

The book entitled Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in was written by a group of Harvard-based authors majoring in negotiation. The book’s target audience is the general public and business-involved individuals who engage in negotiations regularly. As the title implies, the work is organized around the idea of leading negotiations in an effective way using specifically designed techniques and principles that allow for obtaining a positive result of negotiations in any life situation. The structure of the book, language, and overall organization enable the authors to reach their goal of educating and informing their readers about the art of negotiating for agreement.

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In a concise and to-the-point manner, Fisher et al. (1991) deliver their message by breaking down the information into three logical blocks, namely, the problem under discussion, the method the authors have developed and introduced to the readers, and a set of anticipated complications with the explanation of how to deal with them. Conventionally, there are two ways of negotiating: “soft or hard,” where soft negotiator avoids conflict and is willing to adjust to the other side’s terms, and hard negotiator believes that “the side that takes the more extreme positions and holds out longer fares better” (Fisher et al., 1991, p. 6). The authors intend to challenge this traditional opposition between winning and losing in negotiations by introducing a win-win method.

The main idea of the ‘getting-to-yes’ method is principled negotiation, developed within the Harvard Negotiation Project. It is based on focusing on the merits rather than the side’s positions in a dispute. The central point is that negotiators should look for mutual benefits and possible alternative solutions that would ultimately satisfy both sides’ interests. Importantly, as the authors put it, “Principled negotiation shows you how to obtain what you are entitled to and still be decent” (Fisher et al., 1991, p. 6). Thus, firstly, the authors define the problem as bargaining over positions, which is inefficient, produces unreasonable decisions, endangers further relationships, and does not lead to effective agreement. However, there is always an alternative, the solution that suffices both interests and does not depend on either side’s win.

Therefore, the method of principled negotiations involves four main ideas. Firstly, “separate the people from the problem,” which instructs on concentrating on the issue at hand rather than the interpersonal relationships (Fisher et al., 1991, p. 13). Since all negotiations involve human communication, everyone pursues two interests: the substance and the relationship. It is advised to put oneself in the other side’s shoes and discuss both sides’ perspectives to eliminate the conflict between the problem and the relationship and concentrate on finding the solution.

Secondly, it is vital to focus on interests rather than positions. This principle’s central idea is that “behind opposed positions lie shared and compatible interests,” which need to be found for getting a mutually beneficial agreement (Fisher et al., 1991, p. 24). To clarify the opponent’s interests, one should ask questions concerning the reasoning and logic of the other side’s motivation for negotiation. Thirdly, creating options for mutual benefit allows for outlining the pathways of achieving an agreement. By brainstorming the ideas with the other side and broadening one’s options, alternative solutions might be achieved. Finally, the authors emphasize “insisting on using objective criteria,” which will indicate the gains for both sides. It might be accomplished by stating fair standards and procedures. The authors conclude their book by enlisting several challenging situations and tips on how to resolve them in real-life negotiations.

In summary, the book introduces a highly-effective method of principled negotiation that allows for achieving agreement in disputes by preserving one’s interests and cultivating amicable relationships with the opposing party. Using the principles of separating people from problems, concentrating on interests rather than positions, inventing options for the common benefit, and applying objective criteria, any negotiator will succeed at agreeing. Due to the clarity and logical layout of the method developed at the Harvard Negotiation Project, it might be applied in multiple debatable situations and contribute to leading successful negotiations.


Fisher, R., Ury, W., & Patton, B. (1991). Getting to YES: Negotiating an agreement without giving in (2nd ed.). Random House Business Books.

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