Aug 09, 2021

Yes” is such a short word for something with stretching results and implications. “Yes” could mean a new job, a wife, or simply cutting down interest on overdue loans. “Yes” could mean you’re getting a discount, or better yet, you’re getting something for free. It is such a beautiful and positive term that we, even on a subconscious level, strive to hear from the other person: whether it’s from our parents, our siblings, our friends, our lovers, our enemies, or simply from the person sitting on the opposite side of the table. And in a world where we are always on the hunt for all the “Yeses” we can possibly get, even from our very own selves, it can be a daunting task. So how do we make it easier? 

Roger Fisher and William Ury worked with each other to produce one of the solutions: a book entitled Getting To Yes. Make no mistake, this one is not a typical book for just about anyone. It has terms which might be a little bit tricky to comprehend in its fullest sense; but the skills that one can learn from such a good read will set you up for a lifetime: from negotiating for your client, negotiating for yourself, and especially for the people you care about—it is really one of those guides you can use to get what you want.

The book outlines several principles in negotiations as well as the obstacles one might face. The best take away is perhaps a better understanding of how a conflict should be approached in order to solve it once and for all.

Accordingly, the first thing to do is to try to see the problem for what it is: a problem, not a person. There is a need to draw a clear line in the middle of the dichotomy since what you want to fix is the issue itself, not the ones involved. Besides, you can’t fix people. This is a very relatable issue in trying to resolve any conflict or trying to negotiate; it’s simply too easy to associate the person with it and we become more prone to attacking the individual rather than the problem at hand. And in the process, we not only prolong our troubles, but we may actually damage or even destroy our relationships. 

Therefore, we mustn’t be so quick to judge the situation, otherwise, we fall prey to traps of the blame game. Difference in perception, emotions and communication are three of the things that need consideration because these are problem areas. Oftentimes, we are too preoccupied with our own interests that we fail to take into consideration that as a fellow human being, the other party has needs, too. People have reasons for why they do what they do, and if we can’t completely sympathize with them, we can at least understand them. In the process, we have to keep our emotions in check. It’s very easy to lose our composure and to risk our chances simply because as intelligent beings, we are endowed with sentimentalities. It doesn’t mean that we disregard our feelings entirely, but we mustn’t let them overcome our rational minds. 

There is a reason why the brain is placed over the heart; for while the heart has good intentions, it doesn’t know how to go about it—that’s what the brain is for. Be, as much as possible, rational. Finally, what seals or breaks the deal is communication. This isn’t just about words; this is also about the tone of voice—the intonation used. In fact, most misunderstandings are caused by the wrong tone of voice used. Truly, you can insult someone without offending them by sounding genuinely sweet and concerned. And finally, perhaps the best take away here is that it is better if you simply avoid the problems altogether. Prevention is better than cure.

Second, we look at the interest of the parties involved and not merely their positions. Again, there is a reason why people do what they do, or want what they want. When they stand on something, we must determine why. The answer to the question makes it easier to discuss with the other party and find solutions together. After all, wouldn’t you also want somebody you are negotiating with to also understand where you are coming from? Identifying interests allows for more options to take together and move forward with the negotiation—in fact, this is another principle altogether. 

The way conflicts should be perceived are not win-lose situations, but rather, a win-win. Sadly, it’s easy to immediately decide options and fail to explore alternatives. Sometimes, it’s also easy to simply give up and let the other take the wheel. It takes two to tango just as much as it takes more than one  person to make a conflict; and it takes just as many people to solve it. But when we understand the other party, we are able to come up with a shared interest on the matter. And as we try to move forward with the goal of winning together, we are more willing to submit ourselves in a give-and-take process. It can be as easy as brainstorming; from which we can find solutions that yield high benefits to the other party while at the same time entailing lost costs for us. Likewise, the other party must strive to also come up with solutions that are just as beneficial to us as it is to them. Gather all the ideas, and then evaluate them; starting from the most promising ones. 

There are many ways to skin a cat. Each conflict deserves a different set of solutions, carefully tailored to its peculiarities. It’s truly a case-to-case basis. But, one thing remains the same: in solving a problem, a practical and objective criteria must be made. It’s easy to fall into unfair tendencies if we are subjective about it; so as much possible, take a step back from biases and predispositions. Most importantly, this criterion must be a culmination of efforts from all parties involved: it’s a means to solve a problem together, and must therefore be made together as well. And since it isn’t as one-sided, each party must be willing to approach each other with an open mind. 

There is no room for a take-and-take mentality in a negotiation. Unfortunately, it’s easy to give in to less desirable means of getting the other party to agree; there could be undue pressure, threats or bribes along the way. So it is important to lean not only on rationality but also our morals as simple human beings. If objective criteria do not work, we can try to deal with the stubbornness by getting there one step at a time, not the whole thing all at once.

Power play is a dangerous thing; but it exists in just about everything. It is present not only in negotiations, but especially in relationships. In fact, it is even more apparent in families; patriarchy and matriarchy, for examples. The world is not ideal. Inequalities exist in every spectrum of life as we know it: and it’s easy for the ones in power because all they need to do by default is set the lowest they can go—the bottom line. But what about the weaker ones? Where do they go? What do they do? 

This is where the best alternative to a negotiated agreement come in; and where the weaker party should stick to his guns to not settle for anything less than that. Raise the bar; after all, we go into negotiation with a clear goal in mind. Otherwise, we’re charging in blind. It’s unfortunate, but the burden is on the weaker party to try harder to raise the minimum from the stronger party’s bottom line. It’s even more dangerous when the other party employs underhanded means to get what they want. They can refuse to budge from their position or make personal attacks with the goal of only maximizing their own interests. 

People are not fundamentally good, nor are they fundamental evil. In the final analysis, people are simply fundamentally people—along with our imperfects and unfair tendencies. Knowing this unkind nature of man, one makes an even worse mistake by stooping down to that level. Raise the bar and do not react. Instead, go back to the previous paragraphs and when they assert their demands, ask them why. Then ask them again. Ill intentions have bad excuses; legitimate demands have reasons. A third party may even be brought in the situation, that way, each position and interest can be viewed from a more neutral place. 

The third party can collect all of these through careful evaluation, make a proposal that can be fluid enough to go through several sessions of redrafting, concessions, discussions—until finally, the third party finds nothing else to improve on it and the parties can decide whether they want it or not. 

At this point, it’s important to stress that negotiations have more problems than solutions. A full deck of undesirable tricks and tactics are always at the disposal of an unprincipled negotiator—but means to neutralize those are also as equally effective. Identify the tactics used, to expose them, understand them, and to determine the parties’ willingness to pursue negotiation, if they really want to at all. The Philippines have a popular saying: if you do not want to do it, you will always have reasons for not doing. If you want to do it, you will always find ways to do it.