Getting To Yes


A key to successfully attaining our professional and personal outcomes and goals is to remember that: Realizing our own desired outcomes and goals, while creating and sustaining strong relationships, comes from considering the views of everyone involved and through the creation of mutually acceptable and beneficial outcomes and goals for all concerned.

Outcomes created from this perspective attempt to meet the needs of all the individuals concerned. They are called Win-Win because no one walks away from the table feeling they have lost. Achieving goals and aspirations through the “Getting to Yes” lens strengths relationships, increases motivation and improve commitment. Instead of creating an atmosphere of conflict we create a sense of creative collaboration and mutual benefit.

It is not about persuading another to accept our point of view through persuasive rhetoric, coercion or manipulation. Frequently, if the agreement reached favours one party and not the other seeds of mistrust, future disagreement and retaliation are sown.

“The Law of Win-Win says, let’s not do it your or my way; let’s do it the best way”. Greg Anderson

“Getting to Yes” scenarios, in which everyone walks away motivated and committed to attaining both individual and collective goals and outcomes, are created through a collaborative process focusing on the aims and goals of all the parties involved.

“Getting to Yes” is not is not based on manipulation or the ability to overpower. It’s grounded in a well-honed skill of listening and exploring what the other party needs in order to come to an amicable agreement without losing sight of our own desired outcomes, goals and needs.

Ultimately the effectiveness of any collaborative process is the answer YES to the question: “Is our agreement the best agreement for all parties concerned. Have all our creative options been thoroughly explored and exploited”; or NO to the question: “Could this agreement be improved upon by reaching any other agreement”.

The Basic Issue in “Getting to Yes” lies not in conflicting positions, but in the perceived conflict between each other’s needs, desires, concerns and fears.



The FIRST element of creating “Getting to Yes” outcomes is to authentically LISTEN to the needs, desires, concerns and fears of all parties involved including our own.

Focus on the interests not the position taken – which includes yours

Many of our disagreements never get to the crux of the matter. We often don’t get to the point of focusing on the real issue(s) lurking just behind the facade of the stand or position we take. Like the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ we pick on something someone has done or not done, said or not said. We use some otherwise insignificant incident to vent our frustration using it as a catalyst for disagreement. We do this rather than speaking our truth about what’s really going on for us in relation to that person. In other words we take a stand or position on the individual’s behaviour completely bypassing the underbelly of what is really going on for us and just as importantly for them.

Being effective in attaining individual and collective outcomes and goals with and through others means getting to the underlying interests of someone’s (including our own) posited stance or the position they may take.

It means mining the underlying needs, desires, concerns and fears of any and all stances or positions an individual takes.

For instance, let’s take the example of a divorce or a breakdown of a significant relationship:

How do individuals negotiate to equitably split the ‘proceeds’ at the end of a relationship? Even the notion of fairly splitting the physical manifestations of a couple’s time together can be shrouded in underlying levels of emotional investment and attachment. At any moment in the process the paramount need for one or the other to take possession of a particular item can be cloaked with the raging intensity of all they feel has been wrong with the relationship. At best this ferocity surrounds something as simple as a CD at worst it can manifest by attempting to possess and exclude their significant other from the love of their children.

What might really be going on here? It most likely isn’t the need to possess a particular CD or exclude the other from the lives of the children. There may be a deep seated need for the individual to feel revalidated as a worthy individual, a desire for the other to recognize and in some instances apologize for any perceived disrespectful behaviour, a fear of future financial stability or a concern that the other parent will attempt to undermine the love of the children. We should never underestimate the power of Interests, both ours and others. Some of the most powerful interests are founded on basic human needs such as security, economic well-being, a sense of community/belonging, recognition and having a sense of control over our lives.

This was brought dramatically home to me while being part of the strategic team implementing a government initiative which attempted to streamline the multi-agency provision of services to young people 13-19. I worked closely with the 200 strong workforce of one of these agencies to enable the transition from being an independent, autonomous service provider to being integrally collaborative in their provision. To say the process was painful and slow for everyone concerned would be an understatement. Finally after months of stalemates and stalling we finally got to the Interests (needs, desires concerns and fears) of the matter. There was no way they were going to move away from their non-cooperative position until they understood and felt comfortable that their terms of employment were not going to be usurped, undermined or changed.

Some of the ways we have to identify underlying interests are:

1. Putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes and ask ourselves ‘why’ they taking a particular Position or positions and ‘what’ their underlying Interests might be

2. Respectfully and with authentic interest asking the other individual(s) why they are taking a particular position. It is important to remember that in our asking we don’t make the other person believe they need to justify their position. We want them to know that we are trying to understand their underlying needs, hopes, desires, concerns and fears.

3. We might also approach the collaboration by asking ourselves to reflect on why we believe the other individual(s) haven’t yet made the decision they feel you are asking them to make. One of the ways we can do this is to ask ourselves the question: “What are their undisclosed or unmet interests which prevent them from making ‘X’ decision.

We can’t move into considering alternatives until our interests which underlie our positions have been acknowledged by ourselves and others. So first we authentically listen to and mutually explore the underlying Interests of our original Positions.

Then we can move to the next phase of the process which is explores not only our seemingly conflicting Interests but also our shared and compatible Interests as well.


The SECOND element of creating “Getting to Yes” outcomes is to EXPLORE not only the conflicting interests of all parties but also any and all shared or compatible INTERESTS as well.

Both shared and differing but complimentary interests can serve as building blocks of an effecting a “Getting to Yes” agreement.

One of the most common errors in a multi-party negotiation is assuming each individual on ‘the other side’ has the same interests or is being influenced by the same factions. As an effective collaborator we need to recognize and take this into account. Some of the individuals may be more influenced by their peers, or by their families, or by their wider community, or by their employees or employer. Whatever these influences are a wise individual takes them into consideration when trying to effect an agreement.

Other’s Interests:

An effective first step in keeping track of the various interests of all the individuals involved is to write them down if and when they become apparent. With carefully listening to what these individuals are saying the priority of their interests will most probably become apparent.

Once we have a comprehensive and prioritized list of interests we are in a position to start stimulating ideas of how those interests might be met.

By carefully listening and acknowledging the other individuals interests we not only better understand where they are coming from but we have, most likely, also gained their trust. Focusing outward by acknowledging and appreciating the other’s interests instead of simply focusing on our own interests strongly enables an effective agreement. If we are authentic in our exploration they will come to realize that we are genuinely attempting to see their point of view.


When it comes to voicing our own interests within the process it’s important for us to legitimize our interest in the other party’s eyes. This doesn’t mean that we justify our interests. It means that we convey the seriousness of our interests (needs, desires, concerns and fears). Additionally, if we want someone to listen and understand our interests it would be a good idea to back them up with a sound level of reasoning. We can do this by, for instance, using specific data or precedents which support those interests.

A cautionary note here: being effective within the collaborative process rarely, if ever, means concluding any dialogue with legitimizing of our interests by offering a solution to the situation at hand. That is, just because we may feel we have legitimized our own interests doesn’t mean that finding a mutually beneficial outcome precedes understanding the interest of the other parties. It also doesn’t mean that you underplay your interests. It is key to be both concrete (the outcomes and goals you want to get from the process) but flexible at the same time by knowing where you want to go but being open to new ideas and options of getting to an agreement where everyone feels heard, respected and included. Like the well known idiom states:

“Be hard on the issue and soft on the individuals involved.”

Once the interests of all parties has been explored, acknowledged and prioritized where the common and complimentary interests have been identified and agreed upon the process can move on to the next phase. In this phase the individuals look at creating options that will satisfy the main interests of all parties.


The THIRD element of creating “Getting to Yes” outcomes is for the parties to begin to generate (brainstorm) a list of OPTIONS that may satisfy both common and complimentary Interests

Wise decision making arises out of having a greater number and variety of Options from which to choose.

Before we look at what assists in creating the greatest number of Options from which to make mutually beneficial agreements let’s just explore some of the issues that may hinder or inhibit the creation of a number of worthwhile options through brainstorming.

Brainstorming, what does not work:

1. Not sufficient exploration. We don’t give enough time to either the exploration of Interests and Options and therefore we make premature judgements about what will or won’t work in relation to the situation at hand. Premature judgement hinders our imagination and restricts possibility.

2. We search for ‘the answer’. If our focus from the outset is seeking to find the single ‘best’ answer we are likely to short-circuit an effective decision-making process because we have created fewer options.

3. We look at the situation from the perspective of either/or. That is, the solution can either be this or that. However, if we broaden our gaze the solution may become both/and. That is the solution can encompass a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Or it can be neither this nor that but something entirely different.

4. Others’ concerns are not our problem. We believe that the other parties are responsible for solving their expressed concerns (Interests) and that it isn’t part of our responsibility in coming to an effective agreement. Short-sighted self-centred interest creates alienating positioning, arguments, distrust and one-sided solutions.

Now that we have looked at what inhibits the process of creating a collage of viable Options for coming to a mutually beneficial agreement let’s explore what helps that process along.

Brainstorming, what works better:

1. Include everything, judge nothing. Truly brainstorm the options. This means listing everything everyone suggests no matter how absurd it may seem to some. In other words, in the first instance create options without judging them.

2. Collaborative brainstorming. In some instances brainstorming with the ‘other side’ may be a viable option. It would create an air of transparency and trust. It may also shorten the duration of the process. However, if the collaborative brainstorming of options does occur it’s important to be clear from the outset that these sessions are ‘off the record’ and don’t commit either side to any of the options created.

What else would assist the collaborating parties in coming up with the greatest number of Options. It has already been said that including all options without judgement in the brainstorming process is key.

A couple of other suggestions on how to enhance the generation of Options are as follows:

1. Give brainstorming sufficient time. Spend time creating any number of options. The decision-making process is enhanced in the ability to choose from a greater number and variety of options. Increasing the number of options can be cultivated by:

a. Using the expertise of others. Looking at the situation at hand from the perspective of differing experts who have expertise in dealing with similar situations.

b. Separating the trees from the forest. This means that exploring options for solving certain aspects of the present situation may be more effective than attempting to list options for the entirety of the issue at hand.

When I was writing a prior rendition of the book I’m still working on I needed to find an editor. However I really didn’t know of anyone who would be effective in this capacity. I asked a friend and they recommended an individual who, upon meeting for the first time, leapt into telling me how much they would charge for editing the whole book, how they worked and what they expected. If this person hadn’t come highly recommended I would have probably smiled and said I would think about it. However, it wasn’t in my best interest (I wanted my book edited more than I wanted to tell this person where to go) not to work with them. So instead of reaching an agreement for them to work on editing my entire book I negotiated for them to edit the first few chapters only. That way I could see if the relationship was going to work without having to commit to the lump sum they had been asking for with respect to editing the entire book.

2. Exploring areas of mutual gain. Shared or mutual interests don’t always appear obvious. Any shared interests must be made explicit, concrete and future orientated for them to have any substance. Some areas to explore with respect to mutual interests might be:

c. Is there a shared interest in preserving the relationship?

d. What are the future opportunities for fostering cooperation leading to mutual benefit?

e. What would be the cost (e.g. emotional, financial, and relational) if the collaborative process breaks down?

f. Are there some common principles of interaction that are mutually respected?
Vive la difference! Remember just because there are difference between two parties doesn’t necessarily need to create a problem. Differences can also lead to solutions. Some differences that can lead to agreement are the individuals’ relationship to or value placed on time, forecasts and risk.

3. Make it easy for the other parties to decide. This means giving others choices that are as painless as possible. Being effective in the process means that an individual:

a. Puts themselves in the other individual’s shoes and attempting to understand their take on the issue

b. Reflects on questions like: ‘If I were them what outcomes would they most fear or have major concerns with?’ AND ‘If I were them what would they be hoping the agreement might look and feel like?’ ‘What are some specific things they might like?’ ‘What can I propose which might be attractive to them but at the same time not jeopardise my Interests?’

c. Makes any proposed agreements simply and in language that’s attractive to the other side. Makes what is being proposed as easy to implement as possible.

d. Their proposals are seen as fair, legal, and respectful to all parties (more likely to be accepted).

e. Presents each Option in a YESABLE format.

f. Where possible underpin any proposal with precedent.


The FOURTH element of creating “Getting to Yes” outcomes is basing any proposed agreement on OBJECTIVE CRITERIA not coercion and pressure.

Be open to reason but closed to threat.

Using objective criteria as a basis of agreement focuses on the merits of the issues rather than the merit of the parties involved. By bringing standards of fairness, effectiveness, and scientific or legal precedent into consideration when evaluating options in coming gives rise to coming to a wise and fair agreement.

Reaching a solution through the use of objective and fair criteria lessens the risk of the agreement being repudiated later by either side. Using objective criteria on average tends to make the process more time-efficient.

Some sources of objective criteria are:

1. Market value
2. Existing precedents
3. Professional standards
4. Court decisions
5. Standards of morality

Ways in which an individual might begin to discuss the use of objective criteria as a basis of the collaborative process might be:

1. Collaborate with the other side in researching objective criteria for each of the issues on the table.

2. Be open with respect to which standards might be the most applicable for each of the issues. In other words focus on objective criteria with flexibility but never yield to pressure.

3. Ask rather than state which standards would be most appropriate.


The FIFTH element of creating “Getting to Yes” outcomes is the WRITING UP of the proposed agreement.

In summary

Finally a few key points to remember when effecting a “Getting to Yes” agreement:

1. Focus on making a mutually beneficial agreement and not on winning for winning sake.

2. Listen

3. Walk a mile in the other individual(s) shoes to understand their needs, concerns, desires and fears.

4. Explore mutual and complimentary interests from which to build an expansive list of options.

5. Be open and flexible but don’t be influenced by coercion.

6. Explore objective criteria that may be used as a basis for coming to agreement.

“There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.” Mary Parker Follett.


is the President of Integral Coaching and Meditation, assisting leaders and organizations to achieve strategic aims and objectives, while aligning those endeavours to the goals and aspirations of the people involved.

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