Blog Home

Negotiation: Getting to Yes

Over the past few weeks, Kirsty and I have been in the midst of a move from the suburbs back to the city. Now that we’re just about settled in, I had the opportunity to do a little exploring in my new neighborhood: Denver’s Park Hill.

While looking for a local coffee shop, I stumbled upon a real gem – the Park Hill Community Bookstore. From the outside, it is a small place with just a few books, but hidden inside there are three levels of nothing but used books. I spent a solid hour there, and I rediscovered a great book that I hadn’t seen since the early 2000s: Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Published in 1981, Getting to Yes was part of my college curriculum and even though I forgot about the book for a time, I’ve been using Fisher and Ury’s framework throughout my career.

If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to find a copy. It is a quick read at 160 pages, but it contains a wealth of information to help you be a better tech.

You might be asking, “How does an old book on negotiation help advance my technical career?” Believe it or not, you negotiate every day with customers, coworkers, and management. Consider the last time you had an impatient customer who was upset that a system wasn’t working correctly. You probably talked to them about the issue and explained the process you would take to resolve it. Typically, this action helps to diffuse the emotion of the issue – already you’ve done step one of the process: Separate the People from the Problem. Well done!

The second element of artful negotiation is Focus on Interests, not Positions. An easy example of this is the manager/employee relationship. The manager’s position is she needs more work out of her team. The employee’s position is prevent being overworked. If the two of them only focus on their positions, there can be conflict. However, if both focus on shared interests instead, the relationship can be much smoother. In this example, a great shared interest is ‘happy customers.’ If the employees are overworked, customer service can falter, and neither the employee or the manager wants poor customer service out of their team.

When there is a conflict, even if it is minor, it is important to take the time to Invent Options for Mutual Gain, the third point. Before trying to reach an agreement, make sure you have thought creatively about potential options that could be pleasing to all parties. In the manager/employee relationship example above, this could be something like changing schedules to better accommodate workloads or reallocating staff to different tasks that are better suited to meeting the shared interest of ‘happy customers’ found in the second step.

And the fourth and final element is Insist on Using Objective Criteria. This point is related to step one in that it is helpful to minimize emotion from the solution. It’s not enough to have a solution that FEELS better – is it actually better? How do you measure customer satisfaction? Agreeing on how potential solutions will be measured clearly defined, measurable criteria will result in better outcomes for all involved.

My challenge for you this week is to look for opportunities to use these techniques in your negotiations – I bet you’ll find you’ll have happier customers, coworkers, and managers as a result!