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Getting to Yes

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Getting to YES
AuthorRoger Fisher and William Ury; and Bruce Patton in 2nd and 3rd editions
PublisherHoughton Mifflin
Publication date
1981 (2nd ed. 1991, 3rd ed. 2011)
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint, e-book
LC ClassBF637.N4

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In is a best-selling 1981 non-fiction book by Roger Fisher and William Ury.[1] Subsequent editions in 1991[2] and 2011[3] added Bruce Patton as co-author. All of the authors were members of the Harvard Negotiation Project.

The book suggests a method of principled negotiation consisting of "separate the people from the problem"; "focus on interests, not positions"; "invent options for mutual gain"; and "insist on using objective criteria". Although influential in the field of negotiation, the book has received criticisms.


Fisher and Ury focused on the psychology of negotiation in their method, "principled negotiation", which attempts to find acceptable solutions by determining which needs are fixed and which are flexible for negotiators.[4] The first edition of the book was published in 1981.[1] By 1987, the book had been adopted in several U.S. school districts to help students understand "non-adversarial bargaining".[5]

In 1991, the book was issued in a second edition with Bruce Patton, an editor of the first edition, listed as a co-author.[2] The main difference between the second and first editions was the addition of a chapter after the main text entitled "Ten Questions People Ask About Getting to Yes".[2]: ix–x, 149–187 

The book became a perennial best-seller. By July 1998, it had been appearing for more than three years on the BusinessWeek "Best-Seller" book list.[6] As of December 2007, it was still making appearances on the list as one of the "Longest Running Best Sellers" in paperback business books.[7]

The third edition was published in 2011.[3] Among other changes to the second edition, the third edition added newer examples of negotiations, such as a conflict in Iraq after Saddam Hussein had fallen from power;[3]: xiv, 5–6  paragraphs on "core concerns" and "the role of identity";[3]: 32–33  a section "How should we communicate?";[3]: xv, 171–173  and a section "There is power in effective communication".[3]: xiv, 185–188  As of 2022, Ury asserted on his website that 15 million copies of the book had been sold, and that it has been translated into more than 35 languages.[8]

Method of principled negotiation[edit]

The book begins with a chapter "Don't Bargain Over Positions" that explains the undesirable characteristics of positional bargaining, in which the negotiating parties argue over a sequence of positions. Such an argument "produces unwise outcomes", "is inefficient", and "endangers an ongoing relationship".[3]: 4–7 

The next four chapters describe the method of principled negotiation which was developed at the Harvard Negotiation Project (part of the Program on Negotiation consortium) by Fisher, Ury, and Patton.[9] The purpose of principled negotiation is to "decide issues on their merits rather than through a haggling process".[3]: xxviii  The method is based on four principles:

"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.[3]: 19–41  The authors point out that negotiators are people first—people who have different values, cultural backgrounds, and emotions.[3]: 20–21  The relationship between parties tends to become entangled with the problem that the parties are discussing; therefore, issues of perception, emotion, and communication need to be addressed during a negotiation.[3]: 23–39 

Concerning perception, the authors note that it is important for a negotiator to understand how the other party views an issue. Ways to accomplish this include "Put yourself in their shoes", "Discuss each other's perceptions", and "Face-saving: Make your proposals consistent with their values".[3]: 24–31 

Concerning emotion, the authors encourage negotiators to explore the causes of both their own and the other party's emotions.[3]: 31–32  Techniques may be needed to defuse anger, such as allowing the other party to voice grievances and to provide an apology as a symbolic gesture.[3]: 33–35 

Concerning communication, the authors point out three common problems and give suggestions to prevent or solve them:[3]: 35–39 

  1. Not speaking with the other party in a direct and clear manner;
  2. Not actively listening to the other party, but instead only listening to rebut the other party's statements; and
  3. Misunderstanding or misinterpreting what the other party has said.

"Focus on interests, not positions"[edit]

The second principle—"Focus on interests, not positions"—distinguishes the positions that the parties hold from the interests that led them to those positions.[3]: 42–57  For example, in 1978 Israel and Egypt both held positions about occupying the Sinai Peninsula, but the reasons for the positions were different: Israel was interested in security and Egypt was interested in sovereignty.[3]: 44  Addressing the underlying interests of the two nations led to the Egypt–Israel peace treaty of 1979.[3]: 44  The authors recommend that negotiators identify interests, such as the "basic human needs" of "economic well-being" and "control over one's life", behind the parties' positions.[3]: 45–51  Both parties should then discuss their interests and keep an open mind to the other side of the argument, in order to arrive at options that satisfy their respective interests.[3]: 52–57 

"Invent options for mutual gain"[edit]

The third principle—"Invent options for mutual gain"—seeks to benefit both parties that are negotiating.[3]: 58–81  To generate options, the authors suggest that the parties brainstorm separately and possibly together.: 62–72  The book describes specific techniques to promote effective brainstorming; for example, a "Circle Chart" diagrams the repeated steps of Problem, Analysis, Approaches, and Action Ideas that should occur.[3]: 68–70  Options can either meet shared interests or meet different interests that are complementary (as in the nursery rhyme "Jack Sprat").[3]: 72–77  After a suitable option is developed, one side can draft a written agreement to make the decision easy for the other side.[3]: 78–81 

"Insist on using objective criteria"[edit]

The fourth principle—"Insist on using objective criteria"—encourages parties to "negotiate on some basis independent of the will of either side".[3]: 82–95  This approach can help produce "wise agreements amicably and efficiently", as in the case of negotiations about the Law of the Sea.[3]: 84–85  Objective criteria can be based on factors such as market value and precedent.[3]: 86–87  The three steps for using objective criteria in negotiations are to jointly search for such criteria, to keep an open mind about which criteria should be chosen to be applied, and to never give in to pressure or threats.[3]: 88–89  The chapter on this principle concludes with an example of objective criteria being used successfully in a negotiation between a person whose car is a total loss and an insurance claims adjuster.[3]: 93–95 

Answers to questions[edit]

All three editions of the book provide answers to three questions about the method of principled negotiation. The second and third editions answer ten other questions about negotiation.

"What if they are more powerful?"[edit]

If the other side "has a stronger bargaining position", the authors recommend "Develop Your BATNA—Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement".[3]: 99–108  The BATNA is "the results you can obtain without negotiating".[3]: 102  The authors give three suggestions to develop a BATNA that both protects the negotiator from accepting an agreement that should be rejected and improves any agreement that is accepted:[3]: 105 

  1. Creating a list of actions one might take if no agreement is reached
  2. Transforming some of the more promising ideas into options
  3. Selecting the option that appears best

"What if they won't play?"[edit]

If the other side demands to use positional bargaining, a negotiator may attempt "negotiation jujitsu".[3]: 109–130  One method is to ask a third party to mediate. In this "one-text procedure", the third party explores the parties' interests and iteratively develops a solution with them. The author cite the negotiations that led to the 1978 Camp David Accords as an example of the one-text procedure, with the United States drafting agreements between Egypt and Israel.[3]: 118 

"What if they use dirty tricks?"[edit]

The authors point to the outcome of the Munich Agreement in 1938 as an example of a negotiator's failure to address "dirty tricks", in that case Adolf Hitler's negotiating tactics with Neville Chamberlain.[3]: 131  Instead, the parties should negotiate about the rules of negotiation using the four principles stated earlier in the book.[3]: 132–134  This can overcome tactics such as misrepresentation and psychological pressure.[3]: 134–145 

Ten other questions[edit]

The second and third editions contain a chapter after the main text entitled "Ten Questions People Ask About Getting to Yes".[2]: 149–187 [3]: 151–194  The questions and answers concern "fairness and 'principled' negotiation", "dealing with people", "tactics", and "power".


The book has been called "arguably one of, if not the most famous, works on the topic of negotiation"[10] as well as a "wellspring for cutting-edge academic research".[11] The principles in the book have been applied to numerous negotiations. Nevertheless, it has received criticisms.

Applications of principled negotiation[edit]

Organizational and individual negotiators have applied the principles of Getting to Yes. In 2001, the health insurance company Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida (later Florida Blue) formed a department to implement principled negotiation.[12] The purpose was to address the problems of increasing competition, rising healthcare prices, and increased customer expectations.[12]: 109  For instance, the company used principled negotiation to form a joint venture with its competitor Humana.[12]: 110–112  Applying principled negotiation techniques occurred more naturally at the executive level than at lower levels of management.[12]: 112 

In social work, principled negotiation can be used to advocate for a client's interests.[13] For example, a social worker may need to negotiate with a government social services agency to obtain services for a client.[13]: 508–511  In the field of psychology, principled negotiation has formed the basis for educational exercises about critical thinking.[14]


A 2008 review of literature concluded that the book's ideas could be applied to cross-cultural negotiations "if interests are defined to include cultural interests".[15] For example, when negotiating with people in China, a negotiator should be aware of the Thirty-Six Stratagems which may be employed.[15]: 436–444 

A 2020 literature review found significant differences in negotiation styles across various cultures, suggesting that negotiators must adapt their strategies based on cultural contexts.[16][17] Additionally, a 2022 literature review found that the successful application of most principled negotiation techniques is often hindered by the predominantly Western perspective through which these techniques were conceptualized.[18][19]


Gerald M. Steinberg in a 1982 review criticized Fisher and Ury for "describ[ing] the world as it should be, and not as it is".[20] For instance, in practice it can be difficult to find mutually agreeable objective criteria in a negotiation.[20] Furthermore, Fisher and Ury assume that negotiating parties are "unitary actors", but negotiations often involve "complex collective entities, such as states".[20]

James J. White, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, suggested in 1984 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".[21]: 115  In particular, the book does not discuss in enough detail distributive bargaining, in which a gain for one party is a loss for the other.[21]: 119  Fisher responded that the book is intended to give advice, and that "distributional problems" can be reconceptualized as "shared problems".[21]: 121  Nevertheless, Fisher reported that when teaching a negotiation course he tore a copy of the book in half to emphasize that it was imperfect.[21]: 120 

Carrie Menkel-Meadow noted in 1984 that legal negotiators might adopt some of Fisher and Ury's ideas by using a problem solving approach instead of an adversarial approach.[22] Nevertheless, she felt that ideas such as "separate the people from the problem" would not apply.[22]: 837, 841  In 2006, Menkel-Meadow praised Getting To Yes for inspiring a "rich research and teaching agenda", but also claimed that the factors leading to successful versus failed negotiations are still unclear.[23]: 500 

In a 1985 article, William McCarthy described eight areas in which he agreed with the book, but also listed reservations and disagreements.[24] The reservations included the authors' emphasis on long-term relationships (when immediate actions are sometimes required); the assumption that trust is unnecessary in negotiation; and the suggestion to "avoid starting from extremes".[24]: 61–63  The main disagreement was that the book did not consider the need of a negotiator to prevail when a negotiation involves a power struggle.[24]: 63–65  Fisher replied that he agreed with some of McCarthy's criticisms, for example that "Getting to YES probably overstates the case against positional bargaining".[25]

A 1996 paper argued that the book's distinction between "interests" and "positions" was a problem.[26] There can be a difference between objective interests (that help an individual) and subjective interests (that the individual perceives to be helpful, but that may not be).[26]: 307  A negotiating party's public position may be different from that the course of action that the party will actually pursue.[26]: 308–309  If a party's interest is in maintaining internal unity, it may adopt a position that preserves that unity, thus causing an overlap between position and interest.[26]: 313–314 

A 1997 feminist analysis of the book's recommendations appeared in the Otago Law Review.[27] It maintained that the book is written from a male perspective, and that some of its advice may not be appropriate for female negotiators.[27]: 141–143 

The author of a 2003 examination of the history of alternative dispute resolution felt that Getting to Yes is a "classic text".[28]: 693  Nevertheless, the book failed to realistically account for competition among negotiating parties and failed to consider complex personal dynamics during negotiations.[28]: 694, 772  A 2013 Forbes article asserted that the techniques in the book do not work for three reasons: people do not trust other people, people are not rational, and people do not enjoy negotiating.[29]

A 2012 commentary noted that Australian practice guidelines for lawyers supported interest-based negotiation of the type described in Getting to Yes, but that such a negotiation style is not always more ethical than positional negotiation.[30] It is possible for both types of negotiation to be unethical.[30]: 145  Instead, it is ethical for a lawyer to be able to adjust negotiation strategies to provide effective advocacy for a client.[30]: 154–155  The need for flexibility in negotiation styles was echoed in a 2015 paper calling principled negotiations a "false promise".[31]

Chris Voss, a former FBI agent, mentioned Getting to Yes in his 2016 book Never Split the Difference.[32] He called Fisher and Ury's book "a groundbreaking treatise"[32]: 11  and wrote "I still agree with many of the powerful bargaining strategies in the book".[32]: 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?"[32]: 14  Voss presented alternative techniques for such situations, including "the flip side of Getting to Yes": getting to "no".[32]: 20 

Related books by Fisher and Ury[edit]

Fisher and Ury wrote related books whose titles played on the title of Getting to Yes. Fisher and Scott Brown wrote Getting Together: Building a Relationship That Gets to Yes (1988). Fisher and Danny Ertel wrote Getting Ready to Negotiate: The Getting to Yes Workbook (1995). Ury wrote Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People (1991, revised in 1993 as Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation or Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations); Getting to Peace: Transforming Conflict at Home, at Work, and in the World (1999, later released as The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop); The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes (2007);[33] and Getting to Yes with Yourself (And Other Worthy Opponents) (2015).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Fisher, Roger; Ury, William (1981). Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (1st ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780395317570. OCLC 7575986.
  2. ^ a b c d 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.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al 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.
  4. ^ Morrow, Lance (December 7, 1981). "Essay: The Dance of Negotiation". Time. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  5. ^ Piele, Philip K.; Stuart C. Smith (May 12, 1987). "Alternatives to Adversarial Negotiations Being Used Successfully: Could Different Bargaining Format Have Prevented Strike?". Eugene Register-Guard. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  6. ^ "The Business Week Best-Seller List". Business Week. July 6, 1998. Archived from the original on February 15, 2009. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  7. ^ "The BusinessWeek Best Seller List". BusinessWeek. December 3, 2007. Archived from the original on October 3, 2008. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  8. ^ Ury, William (n.d.). "About William Ury". williamury.com. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  9. ^ "About the Harvard Negotiation Project". Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. November 7, 2018. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  10. ^ Schock, Kevin R. (2013). "Getting to Yes: Remembering Roger Fisher". Arbitration Law Review. 5. Penn State Law: 422–438.
  11. ^ Thompson, Leigh; Leonardelli, Geoffrey J. (August 2004). "The Big Bang: The Evolution of Negotiation Research". Academy of Management Perspectives. 18 (3). Academy of Management: 113–117. doi:10.5465/ame.2004.14776179. Retrieved January 30, 2022.
  12. ^ a b c d 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. 18 (3). Academy of Management: 109–112. doi:10.5465/AME.2004.14776178. JSTOR 4166097.
  13. ^ a b Lens, Vicki (July 2004). "Principled Negotiation: A New Tool for Case Advocacy". Social Work. 49 (3): 506–513. doi:10.1093/sw/49.3.506. PMID 15281706.
  14. ^ Bernstein, David A. (February 1995). "A Negotiation Model for Teaching Critical Thinking". Teaching of Psychology. 22 (1): 22–24. doi:10.1207/s15328023top2201_7.
  15. ^ a b Provis, Chris (April 2008). "Cultural Dimension Interests, the Dance of Negotiation, and Weather Forecasting: A Perspective on Cross-Cultural Negotiation". Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal. 8 (3): 403–448.
  16. ^ Schoen, Raphael (2021-04-01). "Lacking pluralism? A critical review of the use of cultural dimensions in negotiation research". Management Review Quarterly. 71 (2): 393–432. doi:10.1007/s11301-020-00187-5. ISSN 2198-1639.
  17. ^ Schoen, Raphael (2020-04-26). "Lacking pluralism? A critical review of the use of cultural dimensions in negotiation research". Schoen-Negotiation. Retrieved 2024-05-07.
  18. ^ Schoen, Raphael (2021-01-01). "Getting to Yes in the cross-cultural-context: 'one size doesn't fit all' – a critical review of principled negotiations across borders". International Journal of Conflict Management. 33 (1): 22–46. doi:10.1108/IJCMA-12-2020-0216. ISSN 1044-4068.
  19. ^ Schoen, Raphael (2022-01-11). "Getting to Yes in the cross-cultural-context: 'one size doesn't fit all' – a critical review of principled negotiations across borders".
  20. ^ a b c Steinberg, Gerald M. (March–April 1982). "Book Reviews [Getting to Yes]". Naval War College Review. 35 (2): 87–89.
  21. ^ a b c d White, James J.; Fisher, Roger (1984). "Essay Review: The Pros and Cons of "Getting to YES" ['Reviewed by James J. White' and 'Comment by Roger Fisher']". Journal of Legal Education. 34 (1): 115–124. JSTOR 42897936.
  22. ^ a b Menkel-Meadow, Carrie (1984). "Toward Another View of Legal Negotiation: The Structure of Problem Solving". UCLA Law Review. 31: 754–842.
  23. ^ Menkel-Meadow, Carrie (October 2006). "Why Hasn't the World Gotten to Yes? An Appreciation and Some Reflections". Negotiation Journal. 22 (4): 485–503. doi:10.1111/j.1571-9979.2006.00119.x.
  24. ^ a b c McCarthy, William (January 1985). "The Role of Power and Principle in Getting to YES". Negotiation Journal. 1 (1): 59–66. doi:10.1111/j.1571-9979.1985.tb00292.x.
  25. ^ Fisher, Roger (January 1985). "Beyond YES". Negotiation Journal. 1 (1): 67–70. doi:10.1111/j.1571-9979.1985.tb00293.x.
  26. ^ a b c d Provis, Chris (October 1996). "Interests vs. Positions: A Critique of the Distinction". Negotiation Journal. 12 (4): 305–323. doi:10.1111/j.1571-9979.1996.tb00105.x.
  27. ^ a b Kirby, Justine (1997). "Would Principled Negotiation Have Saved Eve?: A Feminist Analysis of Getting to YES" (PDF). Otago Law Review. 9 (1): 122–143. Retrieved January 30, 2022.
  28. ^ a b Sanchez, Valerie A. (2003). "Back to the Future of ADR: Negotiating Justice and Human Needs" (PDF). Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution. 18 (3): 669–776.
  29. ^ Jensen, Keld (February 5, 2013). "Why Negotiators Still Aren't 'Getting To Yes'". Forbes. Retrieved January 28, 2022.
  30. ^ a b c Wolski, Bobette (2012). "The New Limitations of Fisher and Ury's Model of Interest-Based Negotiation: Not Necessarily the Ethical Alternative" (PDF). James Cook University Law Review. 19: 127–158. Retrieved January 30, 2022.
  31. ^ Reyes, Victor Martinez (2015). "The False Promise of Principled Negotiations". Journal of Global Initiatives: Policy, Pedagogy, Perspective. 9 (2): 3–18. Retrieved January 30, 2022.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ 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]