How to Get Past No – 5 Steps to a Breakthrough Negotiation

In their famous book, Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury provided a negotiation strategy that has become standard for coming to mutually acceptable agreements in personal and professional conflicts.  The model is based on five propositions, including:

  • “Separate the people from the problem.”
  • “Focus on interests, not positions.”
  • “Invent options for mutual gain.”
  • “Insist on using objective criteria.”
  • “Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)”

I learned about the BATNA in particular years ago and have used it on several occasions.  BATNA is the course of action that will be taken by a party if the current negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached.  A party should generally not accept a worse resolution than its BATNA.  According to Fisher and Ury, however, care should be taken to ensure that deals are accurately valued, taking into account relationship value, time value of money, and likelihood that the other party will live up to their side of the bargain.

While Fisher and Ury’s strategy was generally accepted as being revolutionary, there were critics who responded to it with challenges such as “What if the other party refuses to work with you?” and “What if they try to trick you into an agreement?”  Ury addressed these questions in a sequel called Getting Past No.  This second book takes the original model to a new level, detailing the process of negotiating through obstacles and obtaining win-win agreements with people who are initially resistant to such approaches.  Ury’s five steps to an effective breakthrough negotiation are:

Go to the balcony

Don’t react to provocations and let your emotions get the best of you.  Step away from the scene, calm down, and carefully plan your response.  Do not respond automatically, because most automatic responses are negative and further escalate the situation.

Step to their side

Listening carefully, acknowledging and even agreeing whenever you can, helps the other person feel heard and tends to disarm hostility.

Don’t reject, reframe

To change the game, change the frame.  If you take whatever is said and cast it as an attempt to deal with the issues, you’ll get further than if you simply reject it out of hand.  Ask questions like: “Why is this add-on important to you?” or “What if another member of our team could participate?”

Build a golden bridge

At this stage, you try to make it as easy as possible to say yes to what you want. Instead of pushing, think of yourself as a mediator. Incorporate the other party’s ideas into your proposition and make the negotiation seem like a victory for him.

Bring them to their senses, not their knees

Educate the other party about the consequences of refusing to negotiate. Do not threaten, simply state the facts.  For instance, you might say something like, “If I leave the organization, you won’t currently have anyone with the technical expertise to assist our two largest clients, and this may result in a substantial loss of revenue.”

Have you recently triumphed in a difficult negotiation?  What were your most effective strategies?

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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  • phil.F

    Knowing your BATNA and getting past no are critical skills for anyone looking to get ahead. I totally agree with your points above (and just wish I used them instead of trying to bring my boss “to his knees” a few months ago)

    [Reply]

    alexandralevit Reply:

    Thanks for your comment, Phil! Hopefully you will have a chance to use these skills again soon!

    [Reply]

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