Book Review: "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In" (Revised Edition), by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton

Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

President John F. Kennedy

I just finished this legendary book, and I must say that it lives up to the hype. It's not a book about extraordinary legends or deeds (though some of the stories within do seem legendary after my personal experiences in negotiation and lack thereof). What makes this book remarkable is just how ordinary the situations are. Talking to a landlord about overpaid rent. Getting insurance money for a used car. A divorced couple arguing about child support. Very banal discussions that have large consequences on individuals. The way the discussions are highlighted, though, demonstrate at least for me just how far away I am from being able to manage a negotiable situation. The bright side is, it also highlights a roadmap to get there.

The authors made three very good points in the book that I'd like to highlight:

  • Everyone is a negotiator, all the time. When a grocery store says that the price of a can of beans is $1.50, what they're really saying is, $1.50 take it or leave it. It's largely a cultural assumption that some things are negotiable and some things aren't, whereas the truth is everything is negotiable to some degree. Going back to the grocery store example, I remember when a cashier waived the price of some bananas, because I (politely and not in a Karen way) raised a concern over a difference in price expectations. How we behave, how we talk, and how we think foundationally become how we negotiate and how successful those negotiations are.

  • Negotiation is power. People like to differentiate between "soft power" and "hard power", and I think this book discusses extensively the benefits of soft power with respect to negotiation. Much like "The Laws of Power", this book makes no claim to "right" and "wrong". Unlike the former though, this book argues strongly for practicing "soft power" through negotiation, with positive results that speak for themselves.

  • Negotiation takes practice. The book highlights different examples of tense situations (e.g. two children arguing over who should get the orange, two students arguing over a library window being open or closed), and then highlights how a great negotiator is able to make an agreement over differences (giving one child the peel to make cakes and the other child the fruit to eat, opening a window in another room to circulate fresh air without causing a draft). These are both examples I didn't think I would have thought to make, even after gaining additional context. It's so straightforward in retrospect, but forces a need to understand in the moment. I want to make a strong negotiating ability part of my System 1.

I'm going to put this book on my personal bookshelf, because I'd like to have it and re-read it in the years to come.