Tag Archives: Getting to Yes

Roger Fisher & William Ury: Principled Negotiation

While to the general public, The Art of the Deal may be the best known book on negotiation, to anyone who needs negotiation to be a sustainable part of your professional toolkit, the first and best book to start with has to be Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Indeed, for any manager or professional, this has to be one of the dozen most important books you can read.

Negotiation is conflict conducted in a civilised manner. And what Fisher and Ury tell us is that you are always going to be more successful if you carry it out with strong moral principles. They set out four powerful principles. But it is, perhaps, their solution to one of the biggest problems that negotiators face, which is their biggest contribution to doing a good deal.

Roger Fisher & William Ury

Roger Fisher & William Ury

Roger Fisher

Roger Fisher was born in 1922, and graduated from Harvard College in 1943, just before the United States entered the War. Fisher flew meteorological reconnaissance planes and returned to civilian life to complete a law degree at Harvard.

He then spent some time in Paris working on the European post-war recovery Marshall Plan, before returning to the States to join a Washington law firm. There he had the chance to present cases to the Supreme Court.

In 1958, he returned to Harvard Law School as a member of faculty, being appointed professor in 1960. There, Fisher became increasingly interested in how people resolve disputes, having lost too many friends during the War. So, in 1979, he and Ury co-founded the Harvard Negotiation Project.

Fisher spent a lot of time working on some of the biggest negotiations in global politics, including the Camp David summit between Israel and Egypt, and in South Africa, as Apartheid was finally ending. When not travelling, mediating and advising, he continued to teach, both at Harvard and many other prestigious institutions, as well as writing articles and books. In 1984, he founded the Conflict Management Group, which later merged with the Mercy Corps.

In 1992, Fisher formally retired as Professor and became an emeritus professor, continuing to teach and write into his 80s. Roger Fisher died in 2012.

William Ury

William Ury was born in 1953. He studied Social Anthropology at Yale and went on to research his PhD at Harvard. In 1997, Fisher happened to read Ury’s research paper on the Middle East peace negotiations, and was impressed. He sent a copy to the US Assistant Secretary of State leading the negotiations, and invited Ury to work with him. They were to have a long and fruitful working relationship.

Working together in the Harvard Negotiation Project that they co-founded allowed the two to help each other develop their thinking and the 1981 book, Getting to Yesencapsulated their thinking at the time. It rapidly became a best-seller and remains so today. Both have written numerous additional books since.

Ury set up the Nuclear Negotiation Project in 1982 and also worked as a mediator and negotiation advisor alongside his teaching. In 2007, he also founded Abraham’s Path, to start on the journey of lasting Middle East peace. You can hear him speak about it at TEDx below.

Principled Negotiation

In Getting to Yes, Fisher and Ury set out two overarching beliefs for Principled Negotiating:

  1. Participants are problem solvers
  2. The goal is a wise outcome reached efficiently and amicably

They also set out four essential principles that make negotiations as effective as possible; especially when both parties adhere to them:

  1. Separate the people from the problem
  2. Focus on interests, not positions
  3. Invent options for mutual gain
  4. Insist on using objective criteria


Perhaps the best known concept from the book is the idea of a BATNA – the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. If you aren’t able to reach agreement through the negotiation you are in now, what is the best alternative available to you?

That’s your BATNA.

If you cannot reach a deal in your negotiation that is better than your BATNA, then any deal you agree to represents an incremental loss. So you should, at that point, walk away.

The Circle Chart

Another great tool Fisher and Ury offer in Getting to Yes is the Circle Chart. We wrote about it in an earlier Pocketblog.

More on Negotiation

Another earlier Pocketblog article about negotiation is Deborah Kolb: Shadow Negotiation. Kolb is a collaborator of Ury’s, at Harvard Law School’s Project on Negotiation.

William Ury at TEDx

In this talk, called The Walk from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’, William Ury offers a way to create agreement in even the most difficult situations.


Mary Parker Follett: Management Visionary

‘Ahead of her time’ seems to be the most appropriate epiphet to apply to Mary Parker Follett. And many have done so: Peter Drucker described her as a ‘prophet of management’, while Warren Bennis has said:

‘Just about everything written today about
leadership and organizations comes from
Mary Parker Follett’s lectures and writings.’

Mary Parker Follett


Brief Biography

Mary Parker Follett was born in 1868, into a wealthy Quaker family in Boston. She was an exceptional scholar and a polymath, attending university at Harvard (the Society for Collegiate Instruction of Women – later Radcliffe College), during which time she also spent a year at Newnham College, at Cambridge University (in England). Although denied a PhD by Harvard, she studied widely in law, economics, politics, philosophy, and history. While at Cambridge University she prepared and delivered a paper that was to become, in 1918, her first book: ‘The New State’. It was about social evolution and group-based democratic government. It was reviewed by former US president, Theodore Roosevelt and remains in print today.

After studying, Follett spent the next thirty or so years (from 1890 to 1924) focusing on voluntary social work in Boston. She innovated, being the first person in the US to use a school as an out-of-hours community centre; a model that was widely reproduced across the country.

However, what interests us most at the Management Pocketblog is her work from 1924, when she turned her focus to industry. She wrote that it is ‘the most important field of human activity’ and that:

‘management is the most fundamental element in industry’

She became an early management consultant and was much in demand by industry leaders and academic institutions. She spent her time advising and lecturing, up until her death, at a relatively young age, in  December 1933.

Sadly, her work is not widely known of in the western world, despite notable figures like Drucker, Bennis and Sir Peter Parker praising her to the rafters. This is despite the fact that she anticipated a wide range of issues and thinking that is still today presented as modern and aspirational for our large organisations.

Follett’s Visionary Thinking

Let’s count the ways that Follett was ahead of her time in the field of management. I get to eight.

1. Humanistic Approach to Organisations

Growing up in the time of FW Taylor, and ahead of the work of Elton Mayo, Follett rejected the functional approach to industry in favour of her emphasis on what we now call humanistic principle. She was a progressive, rational humanist in the management field as well as in the political and social arenas, and puts me very much in mind of George Eastman, whom I also described as a visionary. She very much anticipated the work of Douglas McGregor.

2. Empowerment

Follett rejected the idea that managers and staff have fundamentally different roles and capabilities. Instead, she saw that an organisation’s success would come from recognising the part that each has to play in delivering its services or creating its products. She advocated giving power to where it matters.

3. Joined up Business (… and hence, Re-engineering and Lean?)

This created a need for a joined up organisation, where activities, departments, functions and people are properly co-ordinated – both across the organisation and from the bottom to the top (and vice versa). She referred to the relationships between staff and managers and among functions as ‘reciprocal relating’. A leader’s role is therefore to see the whole organisation and the ‘relation between all the different factors in a situation’. Is it too much of a stretch to see this as anticipating the mission of re-engineering and lean management to close gaps in process flow? I don’t think so.

4. Group Dynamics and Team Working – Participative Leadership

The equal balance of power between management and employees leads to the need for team co-operation and that, she suggested, develops a true sense of responsibility in workers. To me, it also demands a model of leadership that Robert Greenleaf was to call ‘Servant Leadership’. Follett did not herself go as far, but identified ‘Participative Leadership’ as the style that involves a whole team in creating products and delivering services.

5. Personal Responsibility

Tying together empowerment, co-ordination and group working is the sense of responsibility they inculcate in workers. Follett again anticipated McGregor’s Theory Y, by arguing that it is this which most develops people.

6.Management Training

If we are to delegate greater responsibility to our people, we must do so well. Follett was an early advocate of management training, believing when many did not that the leadership aspects can be taught.

7. Transformational Leadership

In a paper called ‘The social construction of leadership: From theory to praxis’, Edith Rusch notes the unacknowledged similarities between James McGregor Burns’ articulation of ‘Transformational Leadership’ and Follett’s writings. She presents a compelling argument that Follett not only anticipated the ideas of transformational leadership, but that she was the first to put them forward and even used the term.

8. Win-Win Negotiation and Conflict Management

One particular interest of Follett’s was conflict. She suggested three approaches of domination, compromise and integration, that  Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann would later refer to as competing, compromising, and collaborating. Her thinking on the benefits and mechanisms of creating integrated ‘win-win’ resolutions is rich and sophisticated. In her suggestion that we uncover the real conflict and get to each party’s deeper aims, and then seek to satisfy those, she anticipated a lot of the thinking in best-selling negotiation book, ‘Getting to Yes’.

My one Favourite concept…

from all of Follett’s writing is this: the idea of ‘circular response’. This is that our behaviour helps to create the situation to which we respond. It is the idea of a feedback loop of self reinforcing interpretations and behaviour. I don’t doubt that the essence of this very modern sounding idea goes back to the ancients and classical writings of many cultures. But her articulation of it (and of the compelling phrase ‘circular response’) is so clear, that it has got me thinking.

Thank you…

to Mary Parker Follett. Before I started researching this blog, I knew nothing of her (unlike almost all other management thinker subjects). I had hoped that, being less known, there would be little to read and writing this would be quick. Far from it. But I have gained a lot from learning about Follett, and I hope you will too.

Going round in circles: Problem Solving Simplicity

There are some business books I refer to again and again.  Often they are also (no coincidence) those that are recommended by many people I know as part of your essential business bookshelf.

Getting to YesFor general negotiating skills, I am yet to be persuaded that any book has overtaken ‘Getting to Yes’ by Roger Fisher and William Ury.  It is one of those books where ideas are densely packed and none are laboured.  So despite being a short book, it has more in it than many twice its size.

The lowest review on Amazon UK gives it 3 stars – saying there’s not much new in it.  A triumph for a book that is 30 years old and has therefore been imitated and borrowed from heavily over the years.  I am fairly sure it was Ury and Fisher who first introduced negotiators to the BATNA.

Not about Negotiation

However, I am not writing this Pocketblog about negotiation and you can learn more in Patrick Forsyth’s excellent Negotiator’s Pocketbook (one of my personal favourites).

Sitting among the many gems in Getting to Yes (at page 70 of my 1986 hardback edition) is the circle chart.  This is presented as a tool to help negotiators ‘invent options for mutual gain’.  I see it as one of the best generic problem solving tools – and also, by the way, as a pretty good model for the consulting process.

The Circle Chart


What a wonderfully simple model for problem solving this is.

  1. Problem
    We ask what is wrong and gather the facts
  2. Analysis
    We diagnose the problem, seeking to understand causation
  3. Approaches
    We generate multiple options to resolve the problem
  4. Action ideas
    We evaluate the options and develop plans

All things are connected…

‘It’s the circle of life, Simba’

The Circle Chart has always reminded me how simplicity and robustness come from a few great insights, and the model-maker’s skill is in presenting them in new and relevant ways.  In particular, this model is a close relative of another, designed for a very different purpose: Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT method for instructional design.

Although the sequence is slightly different, the four questions that McCarthy argued that we need to answer are all here:

  1. Problem – ‘what?’
  2. Analysis – ‘why?’
  3. Approaches – ‘how?’
  4. Action ideas – ‘what if?’

So here’s the deal

The circle chart may not be the most sophisticated problem solving model available, but it covers all of the basis for me.  A great resource for managers, project teams, consultants and trainers.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy