For anyone in construction management (or any profession, really), the ability to negotiate is vital. As a woman in the industry, it’s even more important to command the skill and use it every day to maintain your edge. During my first internship in college, one of my mentors noted my disdain for conflict/confrontation and suggested I read Roger Fisher and William Ury’s Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. The book presents four different principles for effective negotiation: separating people and issues, focusing on interests, generating options, and using objective criteria. I’m a firm believer in the complete avoidance of confrontation and, since reading, have been able to use the principles outlined in this book to get two opposing parties to reach agreement without the rise of conflict.
Separate the People from the Problem
Of the principles outlined, “Separate the People from the Problem,” is one that I’ve most tried to incorporate in my day-to-day. I often allow my position on certain issues to become personal, taking innocuous responses to those issues as personal attacks. In such situations, Fisher and Ury advise separating the participants from the issues and their positions on them, thus providing the space for open discussion free from fear of damaging relationships. To get to this point, Getting to Yes outlines three main sources of people problems: differences of perception, emotions, and communication. Of the three, perception is generally the source of conflict, while emotions and communication (or lack thereof) serve to exacerbate the issue. The authors suggest allowing each side to make proposals which would be appealing to the other side, stating that the more that each party is involved in the creative process, the more likely they are to support the outcome.
Focus on Interests, Not Positions
When making an agreement between two differing parties, it is important to focus on the parties’ interests and not their positions. The book defines positions as “something you have decided upon,” while interests “are what caused you to so decide.” (p. 42) They continue to explain that when a problem is defined solely on one side’s positions, at least one party will be unsatisfied with the outcome. On the other hand, a problem defined by a party’s interests allows the possibility of coming to an agreement which satisfies both parties. An agreement focused on interests rather than positions begins with identifying those interests on both sides of the fence; the idea is that all people share certain basic needs such as economic stability and security, and common ground between the two different parties will allow for them to reach a compromise.
Invent Options for Mutual Gain
The idea behind this principle is that people are all too quick to decide impulsively on the first solution presented and therefore fail to consider alternatives. While a quick resolution is never a bad thing, it is often not the best thing. This principle coincides with each of the others outlined in the book. Fisher and Ury emphasize the importance of recognizing that agreements are not necessarily a win-‐lose situation. It is common for both parties to benefit from the final decision. In order for this to happen, however, the authors have outlined four techniques, the last of which includes four types of thinking: stating the problem, analyzing the problem, considering general approaches, and considering specific actions.
Insist on Using Objective Criteria
From the outside looking in, it is easy to see an objective solution or objective criteria for a solution. From the inside of an agreement, however, this is not so simple. The development of these objective criteria must be agreed upon by the parties to best serve their situation. The criteria can come from such sources as professional standards, legal precedent, and scientific findings. Finding objectivity is as easy as assuring that both sides would be willing to agree to be bound by whatever criteria was decided upon.
The principles mentioned in this book are in no way new or outrageous; they’re things that we have all seen used or used ourselves throughout our lives. It can also be argued that there is little to no quantitative evidence to suggest that these principles and this approach works any more than other negotiation techniques. However, the ability to negotiate is different from person to person, so the best approach would be one that fits the user. For myself, using the principles outlined above, I have been able to integrate successful negotiation into my day-to-day.
Roger Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, (New York: Penguin Books, 1983).