The book entitled
“Getting to Yes” by William Ury discusses the advantages and characteristics of
an alternative negotiating tactic called “principled negotiation” or
“negotiation on the merits”. This certain method, which is an alternative to
positional bargaining, is said to be more effective in getting the other side
to agree since instead of focusing on the positions of each party, the interest
or interests underlying these positions are given more emphasis in able to
arrive at an agreement.

        The books starts by pointing out the importance
of learning to negotiate. Everyone negotiates, whether for big or small things,
therefore, learning the skills and methods to be a better negotiator cannot be
overemphasized. Most of us often use positional bargaining when negotiating.
However, there are disadvantages to positional bargaining, whether done in a
hard or soft manner. Most often, negotiators become so invested in saving face
once they assert the merits of their positions. In other words, the negotiation
inevitably becomes a contest of will, that is, parties would keep on insisting
on their positions no matter how unwise or illogical it may turn out to be as
long as they come on top. This is clearly inefficient since neither of the
parties benefit from the value of possible alternative choices that could have
been presented by the opposing side because they feel that any other choice
other than theirs is an attack or an undermining of their position or their
person. This kind of mentality is often attached to positional bargaining,
since the parties’ efforts and mindsets are often attached on positions rather
than interests. A few, if none at all, refuse to yield to merits and reasons if
the alternative proposal waters down what their position seeks. At the end of
the day, positional bargaining often leaves one or even both parties as losers,
produces inefficient and unwise choices and agreements, destroys relationships
between parties, and promotes the counterproductive and harmful goal of winning
the contest of will instead of arriving at the best possible agreement.

        Principled negotiation intends to avoid
the harms of soft or hard positional bargaining and aims to increase the
chances of a win-win agreement. This method is premised on the idea that if
parties to a negotiation would focus on their interests rather than their
positions, they would be able to arrive at a better agreement. Beneath every
conflicting positions are common and differing interests that may be the root
of agreements in negotiations. The books posits that even if the parties have
different interests, a logical agreement on the merits that would leave both
parties satisfied is still capable of being achieved. In fact, a chapter in the
books discusses how most often, agreements becomes possible due to differing interests
of parties. For example, a seller is able to sell his goods since his interest
in getting money exceeds his interest of keeping the goods he is selling.
Meanwhile, a buyer is more interested in getting the goods rather than keeping
his money. This difference in interests made the sale possible. Hence,
negotiators must not fear or shy away from conflicting interests for often,
they are the reason why negotiations are successful.

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        The book likewise discussed how
principled negotiation treats the four important points of negotiation: people,
interests, options, and criteria. In this alternative method, people are
separated from the problem; interests, rather than positions, are given
emphasis; creation of alternative choices and possibilities are encouraged
before making a decision or agreement; and that some objective standard must be
used to arrive at a result. When all these points are taken together in the
negotiation table, parties are more likely to produce a wise and efficient
agreement.

        On the first point, principled
negotiation is a better alternative to positional bargaining since it promotes
separation of the people from the problem. Parties must not attack each other,
instead, they must attack the problem together. In the usual positional bargaining
scenario, parties become more and more invested in their positions and how they
appear to be every time they assert how better their position are compared to
the other sides’. When parties take their positions, as well as others,
personally, they are more likely to attach their very selves and others to
their respective positions. Hence, they would feel personally attacked when
their position is hit by criticisms or alternatives. They would refuse to
dilute their demands and consider looking for additional choices that would
have also otherwise left them equally satisfied. In principled negotiation,
parties should work more as a team rather than as enemies. It would also help
preserve or even improve the relationship of the parties. After all, it is
better to end a negotiation with an agreement that does not result in a hostile
relationship. Moreover, the idea of working against a common enemy, i.e. the
problem, would help parties better communicate with each other. When parties
communicate more and in a better way, more useful information that could lead
to the creation of more choices can be achieved, the interests of the parties
can be identified, and parties would be more willing to base the results on a
reasonable objective standard. In fact, one important premise presented in the
book is that good communication helps in achieving all the four points of
principled negotiation.

        Another point that is perhaps the
highlight of principled negotiation is negotiation based on interests. It
emphasized the fact that behind every position are basic interests that can be
reconciled by the parties. An example cited in the book was between parties
with conflicting positions: one wanted the library window open, while one
wanted it closed. They may settle on a solution and leave the window half
opened, but this does not really satisfy any of their positions. However, once
the librarian asked them why they wanted the library window open or close, one
answered that he wanted to get some fresh air while the other one wanted to avoid
the draft that an open window might bring in.
Knowing the underlying interests of both parties, the librarian opened the
window in the next room which brought fresh air without a draft. Both parties
had conflicting positions, but once their underlying interests were identified,
a better solution was achieved. It is definitely more possible to reconcile
interests rather than positions, hence, negotiators must focus on it if they
aim to arrive at an agreement that leaves both parties better off.

        Third, parties must optimize their
choices. Whether within their party or together with the other party, inventing
more options for mutual gain is ever important. Parties must not confine
themselves in the conventional idea that the pie can only be divided in a certain
number of ways or that it is fixed in size. Before deciding, parties must
endeavor to create ideas using their imagination. This can be done through
brainstorming sessions within the party or with the other party. Additionally,
parties must learn to separate inventing from deciding. Decision making usually
involves a lot of nitpicking which can suppress creative and out-of-the-box
ideas. Since parties here are trying to divide the pie in new ways or even make
it bigger, then a carefree imagination must be allowed to roam the brainstorming
session before its ideas should be criticized. More creative choices would mean
better options for mutual gain for both parties. Gone should be the days where
negotiations are based on positional bargaining where parties seem to
participate in a zero-sum game.

        Lastly, despite efforts on reconciling
interests and creating choices for mutual gain, parties will inevitably
disagree or criticize each other. As mentioned, negotiating and deciding based
on will is harmful, unwise and inefficient. Therefore, parties must learn to be
open to reason. However, parties must be guided by their principles and not be
pushed by threats or pressure. When there are difference that cannot be
reconciled, parties often use threats in order to make other parties yield to their reason and standard. This produces
a costly result since again, decisions based on will are often inefficient and
when interests are not satisfied, an agreement is unlikely. Hence, parties must
insist on objective standards like market value, traditions, moral standards or
government standards depending on the situation. Parties must focus on the
merits of the choices and aim to develop an objective criteria independent of
the will of each side in order to arrive at a fair solution or agreement. Since
the problem is often how to determine what objective or fair criteria to use,
both parties must then try and have an open mind. They must actively
participate in the determination of the objective criteria by discussing the
merits of the issue. Moreover, a party who insists on using an objective
criteria to resolve a conflict is more likely to make the other party
participate in deciding based on some objective criteria rather than on
arbitrary standards. After all, it is easier to present the merits of one’s
position or argument when an objective standard is used to show said merits.

        The book also discusses how to overcome
negotiations where the other side has a better bargaining position, how to make
unwilling negotiators participate in the negotiation, and how to deal with hard
bargainers. On the first issue, the importance of knowing your best alternative
to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) is the best weapon. After all, parties
negotiate in order to make themselves better off. Hence, in case the choices
you are offered in a negotiation will leave you worse off compared to your
BATNA, then you would feel more secured having an alternative plan that will
leave you better off than continuing the negotiation. A negotiator is left with
more room to be flexible in making choices and decisions when he knows his
BATNA, thereby protecting him from a bad agreement. Meanwhile, if the other
party does not want to negotiate, it is always advisable to once again look
behind their position and identify their underlying interests, or to make the
other side see that the exchange of solutions and criticisms is an attack on
the problem and not on the parties. Simple things like rephrasing statements
may also help the other side become more amicable. On the other hand, when
negotiating with hard bargainers, the book emphasizes and reiterates the use of
the four points discussed.

        In sum, a negotiation need not be a
zero-sum game. When negotiators find and use a better way to deal with the
differences between parties, an agreement where both sides benefit can be
achieved. Utilizing the four important points in principled negotiation will
help avoid the cost of positional bargaining. Therefore, negotiators must not
fear conflicting positions or interests, for these are not always insurmountable
differences.         

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