When winning isn’t the goal

What if you could negotiate on your behalf or on behalf of others without compromising that which you think you deserve and being a decent person?  What if you could separate a problem facing you from the person you think is the problem?  And what if you could invent options that will benefit both you and the person with whom you’re negotiating?

Over these past holidays I read a book that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.  This is considered somewhat of a classic, and it is for good reason.  To summarize the content here would be a challenge, and it is a challenge to leave anything out.  Instead, let me focus on one aspect, that of separating the people from the problem, which is essential to coming to agreeable terms without letting a relationship suffer.

To separate the problem and the person, you need to be concerned with three things:  Perception, Emotion, Communication.

When it comes to perception, you should constantly challenge yourself to see things from the other’s point-of-view.  You can’t really read his or her mind so why tell yourself that you know their intentions; in fact, many times you base your ideas about their intentions from your own fears.  If I’m afraid that someone will take advantage of me, I’m much more likely to interpret his actions as being movitvated to do so.  In fact, we sometimes blame the other person that the very problem exists instead of proceeding with the understanding that it is your mutual problem.  One way to combat perception problems is to look for opportunities to act contrary to their perceptions.  If the other person is afraid you are withholding information, then offer to answer any question, to open the books for him or her.

Emotions can also run high and be an enemy when thorny negotiations are in progress.  To prevent emotions from taking over, you need to exercise your best emotional intelligence:  recognize the emotions that are present, theirs and yours, and be prepared to make them explicit by acknowledging them.  If you sense when you are being defensive, you’ll be much less likely to let defensiveness cause you to react instead of to act.  You can also be charitable here.  If the other person does react with some emotion, be willing to let it pass and not hold it against them.  Remember, the goal is a successful negotiation, and some forebearance may be what is needed.

Finally, communication is essential.  You may be tempted to slam shut a notebook and walk out but that will only make you feel good for a short time.  Instead, listen actively and acknowledge what is being said, speak clearly and directly, and speak about yourself (“I”) and not about them (“You”).  If each word you speak contributes to the purpose of the negotiation, you’ll indeed make progress.

The biggest takeway I had from “Getting to Yes” is that we’re to focus on interests and not positions.  If I’m negotiating a price on a house and I say, “I won’t pay a penny more than $200,000”, I may have missed an opportunity for creative thinking that would benefit both of us.

The authors relate an anecdote that occurred in England in 1964 when the Frisbee was just becoming known.  After two Americans had finished a session of throwing the disc, someone asked “Who won?”  Just as the question of winning isn’t appropriate for Frisbee throwing, “Who’s winning?” isn’t the right question for a negotiation.  Winning might best be described as both parties walking away feeling good about the outcome and good about themselves as human beings.



  1. Stacey Schaeffer says:

    This is so timely for me, Randy. The message is spot on — especially the point about separating the problem from the person. Thank you for sharing:)


  2. Christine says:

    Excellent points! I always enjoy reading your insights on leadership and the books your read.
    Sometimes it is easier than others to negotiate. These are important reminders for when the going gets tough! Thanks for sharing!


  3. Sharmila says:

    This is wonderful Randy! I am an avid reader of your writings and I truly believe that you have reflected my innermost thoughts here.

    I am trying to follow some of these practices for better leadership and face the challenges you mention here. These clues to this are truly subtle at the level of perceptions and emotions. We seem to focus on the gross external so much that these subtleties are missed out often. Even though I try to practice these conciously, I notice ever so often that I fall into the same pitholes. Always room for learning 🙂 Thanks for the reminder.


  4. Jan Gjestvang-Lucky says:

    I like your proposed new definition for winning, and I think it might be good enough to use in all contexts, not just for negotiation! Thanks for posting!


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