Getting to Yes

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Getting to YES
Getting to Yes.jpg
AuthorRoger Fisher and William L. Ury; and Bruce Patton in some editions
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherPenguin Group
Publication date
1981 (2nd ed. 1991, 3rd ed. 2011)
Media typePrint, e-book
Pages200 pp.
158/.5 20
LC ClassBF637.N4 F57
Followed byGetting Past No 

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In is a best-selling 1981 non-fiction book by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury. Subsequent editions in 1991 and 2011 added Bruce Patton as co-author. All of the authors were members of the Harvard Negotiation Project. The book made appearances for years on the Business Week bestseller list. The book suggests a method called principled negotiation or "negotiation of merits".


Members of the Harvard Negotiation Project, Fisher and Ury focused on the psychology of negotiation in their method, "principled negotiation", finding acceptable solutions by determining which needs are fixed and which are flexible for negotiators.[1] By 1987, the book had been adopted in several U.S. school districts to help students understand "non-adversarial bargaining".[2] In 1991, the book was issued in a second edition with Bruce Patton, an editor of the first edition, listed as a co-author. The book became a perennial best-seller. By July 1998, it had been appearing for more than three years on the Business Week "Best-Seller" book list.[3] As of December 2007, it was still making appearances on the list as one of the "Longest Running Best Sellers" in paperback business books.[4] The third edition was published in 2011.[5]

Method of principled negotiation[edit]

The method of principled negotiation was developed at the Harvard Program on Negotiation by Fisher, Ury, and Patton.[6] Its purpose is to reach agreement without jeopardizing business relations.[7] The method is based on five propositions:[8]

"Separate the people from the problem"[edit]

The first principle of Getting to Yes—"Separate the people from the problem"—applies to the interaction between the two parties to a negotiation. The principle is broken down into three subcategories: perception, emotion, and communication. The authors point out that negotiators are people first—people who have values, cultural backgrounds, and emotions that vary by person.[8] Getting to Yes teaches that this human aspect can be either helpful or disastrous. Negotiation can either build trust and understanding with a positive relationship established at the end, or lead to frustration or dissatisfaction. The authors discuss how the relationship between parties tends to become entangled with the problem that the parties are discussing.[8]

Incorrectly deducing the intentions of the other party based on one's own fear is a common mistake; the authors describe it as a bad habit that could cost "fresh ideas in the direction of agreement".[8] The authors explain that feelings are just as important as the content of the dispute during negotiation. Communication is the main aspect of negotiating, and the authors point out three common problems in communication:

  1. Not clearly speaking with the other party, but instead attempting to impress those within one's constituency by taking a side instead of working toward a mutual agreement;
  2. Not actively listening to the other party, but instead only listening to rebut the other party's statements;
  3. Misunderstanding or misinterpreting what the other party has said.

Similarly, in the book, I Win You Win, Carl Lyons explored the principle of "separating the person from the problem" and discovered that interests are an extension of values. People's current interests are always attempting to satisfy something that they value. Understanding this principle is a key first step in understanding people's behavior in negotiations.[9]

"Focus on interests, not positions"[edit]

The second principle—"Focus on interests, not positions"—is about the position that the parties hold and the interests that led them to that position. The authors recommend that negotiators should focus on the interests behind the position that each party holds. Both parties should discuss their interests and keep an open mind to the other side of the argument.[8] It is crucial to put yourself in the shoes of the other side to try to understand "why" the other side is acting the way they are or rather "why they are not".[5]: 46  The authors state that "the most powerful interests are basic human needs".[5]: 50 

"Invent options for mutual gain"[edit]

The third principle—"Invent options for mutual gain"—is about benefiting both parties that are doing business. This principle aims to help the parties find an option that will impact each party in a positive way, making both sides feel like they did not get taken advantage of during the negotiation. It is important to listen to the other party and not make a decision until both parties feel that they have been heard. Both parties should clearly explain their intentions and what they want out of the conversation.[8]

"Insist on using objective criteria"[edit]

The fourth principle—"Insist on using objective criteria"—is about making sure that the conversation stays on topic and that it is productive. The parties are making deals based on objective and practical criteria. The three steps to using objective criteria are to find out what the other party's intentions are, keep an open mind, and never give in to pressure or threats.[8] Each party is in charge of keeping the other party committed to the conversation.

"Know your BATNA"[edit]

The fifth principle—"Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)"—emphasizes that no method can guarantee success if all the leverage lies on the other side.[8] The authors suggest two methods of going about negotiating from a position of power. First, each party should protect themselves first. Second, each party should make the most of the power within their own assets to negotiate and win against the opposite party.

When negotiating, the parties must resist the urge to constantly compromise for fear of completely losing the negotiation. Such compromises may allow for a shorter negotiation, but may also leave the primary party with a deal that didn't benefit them to the full extent. Establishing a "bottom line" can protect the negotiator's final offer, but may limit the ability to learn from the negotiation itself and may preclude further negotiation that possibly could result in a better advantage for all parties involved. When considering final decisions, each party may want to take a step back and consider all possible alternatives to the current offer being made. One example in the book describes a house on the market: Thinking of all other possibilities if the house were not sold should be compared with the option of selling the house to ensure the best decision is made.[8]

Principled negotiation in action[edit]

The article "Taking steps toward 'Getting to Yes' at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida" highlights principled negotiation in practice by a major insurance company.[10] Blue Cross and Blue Shield—aware of increasing competition, rising healthcare prices, and increased customer expectations—sought to highlight other parties' interests when creating policies so as not to drive away business.[10] The authors noted that applying principled negotiation techniques came much more naturally at the executive level and needed more practice at lower levels of management.[10]


James J. White, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, suggested that Getting to Yes is not scholarly or analytical and relies on anecdotal evidence, and that "the authors seem to deny the existence of a significant part of the negotiation process, and to oversimplify or explain away many of the most troublesome problems inherent in the art and practice of negotiation".[11] There is no quantitative evidence presented that suggests outcomes using this technique will typically be better than an alternative method, such as positional bargaining.[11]

Chris Voss, a former successful FBI agent, mentioned Getting to Yes in his 2016 negotiation book Never Split the Difference.[12] He called Fisher and Ury's book "a groundbreaking treatise"[12]: 11  and said: "I still agree with many of the powerful bargaining strategies in the book."[12]: 13  But he criticized their methods as inadequate for hostage negotiations such as the Waco siege: "I mean, have you ever tried to devise a mutually beneficial win-win solution with a guy who thinks he's the messiah?"[12]: 14  Voss presented alternative techniques for such situations, including "the flip side of Getting to Yes": getting to "no".[12]: 20  (Bill Ury himself had written a sequel to Getting to Yes in 2007 titled The Power of a Positive No.[13])

Getting Past No[edit]

Getting Past No is a reference book on collaborative negotiation in difficult situations, written by William L. Ury. First published in September 1991 and revised in 2007, this book is a sequel to Getting to Yes.

Ury also wrote other related books that played on the title of Getting to Yes, namely: Getting to Peace (1999), The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes (2007), and Getting to Yes with Yourself (And Other Worthy Opponents) (2015).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Morrow, Lance (Dec 7, 1981). "The Dance of Negotiation". Time. Archived from the original on May 19, 2011. Retrieved 2009-08-06.
  2. ^ Piele, Philip K.; Stuart C. Smith (May 12, 1987). "Alternatives To adversarial negotiations being used successfully". Eugene Register-Guard. Retrieved 2009-08-06.
  3. ^ "The Business Week Best-Seller List". Business Week. July 6, 1998. Archived from the original on 2009-02-15. Retrieved 2009-08-06.
  4. ^ "The Business Week Best Seller List". Business Week. December 3, 2007. Archived from the original on October 3, 2008. Retrieved 2009-08-06.
  5. ^ a b c Fisher, Roger; Ury, William; Patton, Bruce (2011) [1981]. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (3rd ed.). New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780143118756. OCLC 609540048.
  6. ^ "About the Harvard Negotiation Project". Program on Negotiation Harvard Law School. April 19, 2009. Retrieved January 4, 2014.
  7. ^ Gladel, Florence (July 1, 2012). "The Harvard Principled Negotiation". The World of Collaborative Practice. Retrieved January 4, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Fisher, Roger; Ury, William; Patton, Bruce (1991) [1981]. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (2nd ed.). New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140157352. OCLC 24318769.
  9. ^ Lyons, Carl (2007). I win, you win: the essential guide to principled negotiation. 9781408101902: London : A & C Black. pp. 29.CS1 maint: location (link)
  10. ^ a b c Booth, Bridget; McCredie, Matt (August 2004). "Taking steps toward "Getting to Yes" at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida". The Academy of Management Executive. Academy of Management. 18 (3): 109–112. doi:10.5465/AME.2004.14776178.
  11. ^ a b White, James J. (1984). "Review: The Pros and Cons of "Getting to YES": Getting to YES by Roger Fisher, William Ury". Journal of Legal Education. 34 (1): 115–124. JSTOR 42897936.
  12. ^ a b c d e Voss, Chris (2016). Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. New York: HarperBusiness. ISBN 9780062407801. OCLC 950202672.
  13. ^ Ury, William (2007). The Power Of A Positive No: How To Say No And Still Get To Yes. New York: Bantam. ISBN 9780553804980. OCLC 70718568.

External links[edit]