Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"You can't turn a no into a yes without a maybe."

President Frank Underwood on Netflix's new season of House of Cards uses this phrase when negotiating with his Russian counterpart. It reminded me of Roger Fisher and William Ury's classic book, Getting to Yes. Commonly, parties bargain over positions, their thesis goes, tending to lock themselves into those positions. The more one clarifies a position and defends it against attack, the more committed they become to it. Agreement becomes less likely as more attention is paid to positions, their argument goes, and less attention is devoted to meeting the underlying concerns of the parties. The problem with negotiating to the "yes" lies not in conflicting positions, but in the conflict between each side’s needs, desires, concerns, and fears, they say. In contrast to positional bargaining, they maintain principled negotiation methods of focusing on basic interests, mutually satisfying options and fair standards more typically result in a "yes" agreement. This method, they assert, permits reaching gradual consensus on a joint decision efficiently without all the transactional costs of digging into positions-- only to give have to dig out of them. Further, people often come into a negotiation realizing that the stakes are high and feeling threatened. Fisher & Ury state emotions may quickly bring about a "no" ending in an impasse. Therefore, they assert separating the people from the problem allows dealing directly and empathetically with the other side as human beings, making possible an amicable agreement. Importantly, they identify the skill of inventing options as one of the most useful assets a negotiator can have. They say when looking behind opposed positions for the motivating interests, one can often find an alternative position which meets not only its own interests but theirs as well. Perhaps this is where the "maybe" is achieved on the road to settlement?