Getting Past No: Negotiating With Difficult People
By William Ury
Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: Getting Past No: Negotiating With Difficult People, William Ury, (New York: Bantam Books, 1991).
In Getting Past No, Ury presents a five-step strategy for negotiating with an uncooperative, intransigent opponent. There are usually reasons behind a person's uncooperative behavior. People may behave badly in negotiations out of anger or fear, because they don't know any more effective way to behave, because they don't see any benefit from negotiating, or because they see asserting their own power as the only alternative to being dominated. Intransigent behaviors are likely to provoke an angry response, and so the effective negotiator faces the additional challenge of controlling their own reactions.
The first step in bringing the other party around to more effective negotiating behavior is controlling one's own behavior. When confronted with a difficult situation, people typically either strike back, give in, or break off the relationship. These are counter-productive responses. When facing a difficult opponent, Ury recommends "going to the balcony." Do not react. Instead, keep your mental equilibrium by distancing yourself emotionally and viewing the situation objectively. Identify your underlying interests and your best alternative to a negotiated settlement (BATNA). Decide whether it is worth negotiating in the situation. Take a moment to recognize the tactics your opponent is using, and to recognize your own feelings and "hot button" issues. When in negotiations, pause, take a time-out, or review the discussion to date in order to gain time to "go to the balcony." Never make a decision on the spot; always withdraw, even briefly, to review the settlement objectively.
The next step is to disarm the opponent by stepping to their side. The goal is to reassure the opposite side and help them regain their own mental balance. Listen actively to them, by asking clarifying questions and paraphrasing their statements. Acknowledge their points and feelings. Apologize if appropriate, or at least express sympathy for their problem. Focus on areas of agreement. Ury stresses the importance of saying and eliciting the word "yes" to reduce tensions and foster an atmosphere of agreement. In expressing your own views adopt a both/and approach. Say "Yes, and..." instead of "But..." Make I-statements rather than accusative you-statements. "Whatever language you use, the key is to present your views as an addition to, rather than a direct contradiction of, your opponent's point of view."(p. 51)
Step three is to reframe the dispute in terms of interests rather than positions. The best way to get the opposite side to focus on interests is to ask open-ended, problem solving-oriented questions. Ask "why" questions to elicit the opponent's interests. If they resist, ask them "why not" questions about alternative solutions. "What if" questions introduce new options without directly challenging the opponent's position. Position-based negotiating tactics can be handled by ignoring them, or by reformulating them. Reinterpret firm positions as aspirations. Reinterpret personal attacks as expressions of concern, or as attacks on the problem. If the opponents continue to use counter-productive tactics, it may be necessary to explicitly (but tactfully) identify the problematic behavior, and have a negotiation about which tactics are appropriate.
Step four, Ury says, is to "build them a golden bridge" to draw them from their position to an agreement. Make it easy for them to say yes by removing common obstacles to agreement. Opponents may resist ideas that are not their own. Avoid the temptation to tell other side what the solution is. Instead, ask them for their ideas and constructive criticisms. Offer them choices. An opponent's resistance may indicate that she still has unmet interests. Try to understand the other side's logic and perspective, and do not overlook intangible interests such as needs for recognition, identity or security. Many people will reject an agreement rather than lose face. Find ways for opponents to agree without appearing to compromise their principles or sacrifice their dignity. One way is to seek third-party recommendations. Ury notes that "a proposal that is unacceptable coming from you may be acceptable if it comes from a third-party."(p. 102) Give the other side credit for finding a solution. Suggest ways of present the agreement to constituents in the most favorable light. Finally, people may resist an agreement if it is too much change, coming too fast. Break the agreement into a progression of smaller agreements. If they resist, reassure them that no commitment is final until all are. Do not rush the final agreement. Allow the opponent to "go to the balcony" before making their decision.
What if the other side refuses to take the golden bridge to an agreement? Step five, complements step four, offering ways to make it hard for the opponent to say no. The common reaction at this point is to resort to power tactics and try to force them to agree. This is counter-productive. Ury says, "Instead of using power to bring your opponent to his knees, use it to bring him to his senses."(p. 113) The goal is to educate the other party to realize that an agreement is in their best interest. Ask them reality-testing questions about what will happen if no agreement is reached. Alert them (without threatening) to your BATNA. If they still resist agreement, you may need to deploy your BATNA. Ury offers this rule for any exercise of power in negotiations: "The more power you use, the more you need to defuse your opponents resistance."(p. 121) Couple power tactics with conciliatory moves. Seek to neutralize your opponent's attacks, rather than responding with counter-attacks. Seek allies from the larger community. Third-parties can inhibit threats or attacks, and can pressure both sides to resume negotiations. Remind the opponent of the attractiveness of the proposed agreement, and reassure them that your aim is mutual satisfaction. Because imposed settlements are unstable, it may be better to negotiate an agreement even in cases where you have a decisive advantage.
In conclusion, Ury reminds us that the goal of negotiations is not to destroy the other side, nor to dominate them. The goal is to win them over, so that they become partners in a shared problem solving process.