Getting Past No: Book Review

“Getting Past No,” is William Ury’s sequel to “Getting to Yes,” the classic book on how negotiators should bargain. “Getting Past No” provides basic strategies on how to deal with difficult people and situations. In other words, the book tries to answer the question of what to do if the other side does not “play nice.” This post highlights some of Ury’s key concepts. My one-sentence summary is: Be the adult in the room, and keep your attention focused on your goal, which is to achieve a result superior to what you will likely achieve without settlement.

Successful negotiators turn adversaries into problem-solving partners. Author Ury identifies five barriers to such cooperation. (1) Your own emotional reaction to the adversary’s conduct. (2) The other side’s emotion, which might include anger, hostility, fear, distrust, or the feeling that they are right and you are wrong. (3) Their efforts to state a position and insist that you give in. (4) Their desire to avoid losing face by accepting your proposals. (5) Their power and lack of interest in cooperating.

Ury offers strategies to address each of the five barriers. The first is to “Go to the Balcony,” his metaphor for looking at yourself and the situation as an observer rather than as a fighter who naturally reacts. Once on the balcony, (a) you name the tactic used by the other side, whether stonewalling, attacking or tricking, (b) give yourself a chance to think, and then (c) determine your best strategy for response, which, hopefully is, “Don’t get mad; Don’t get even; Get what you want.”

The response is what I call being the adult and what Ury calls, “Step to their Side.” Use your best listening skills. Agree with and acknowledge their feelings and their points, to the extent you can. Measure your words and tones so as to not provoke a negative response in an effort to create a better environment for negotiating.

Step three for Ury is to “reframe” rather than reject. Ury provides strategies and examples of how to get the other side off their positions and how you can deal with their tactics. His examples throughout the book draw from many situations: from international diplomacy, to business negotiations, to parent-child discussions. This section of the book offers useful reminders to litigators of the different mindset we must have when our goal is to convince an adversary to do something as compared to winning before a judge or jury.

Step four is to “Build Them a Golden Bridge,” between their initial position to a mutually acceptable place. Ury identifies obstacles to agreement, including (1) it was not their idea, (2) their interests are not met, and (3) their fear of losing face. Here, the biggest mistake a negotiator makes is to downplay the importance of the process or ritual of negotiations and to announce that he has divined the correct solution. A skilled negotiator takes a step-by-step approach and involves the other side. Give them the opportunity to leave their positions in a face-saving way.

The last step is to use your power to educate the adversary, not to escalate the battle. Sharpen the choice between the face-saving settlement and the consequences of no settlement. Begin with reality-check questions: “What do you think will happen if we do not agree?” Then, “warn, don’t threaten.” Such subtleties convert negotiation from a skill to an art. A threat is what you will do to them. A warning is an objective and respectful statement of what will likely happen. Continue to contrast the choice between the opportunities of settlement to the consequences of no settlement.

The overall message I received from “Getting Past No” is that negotiation is a process and ritual. To succeed one must:

– Identify your adversary’s tactics.
– Identify and control your own visceral response.
– Be the adult and try to guide the other side to a sensible outcome.
– Stay focused on the goal: to improve upon your likely alternative to settlement.

Jeff Merrick
Merrick Mediation Service
Copyright 2012

Jeff Merrick