A few days ago at a tech event, I ran into a good friend, Héctor Ortega, an expert in digital channels in the financial sector who is doing important work in Mexico to develop the financial sector community based on common interests and concerns, friendship, and open conversations.

We discovered that we both very much enjoy writing articles for the financial, technological, and business communities. Héctor had an idea for an article that I thought was very interesting: to write about “The owner of the word NO.” Basically, it’s about a person in a group whose job it is to say “NO” to proposals, to enrich the group by preventing them from being excessively confident or optimistic, forcing them to resolve the objections through more analysis and caution. Héctor did write his article, which I thoroughly recommend.

However, when I listened to Héctor, I thought about how in our daily life, we often find ourselves with people who, without knowing, are the owners of the “NOs” in our lives and the projects we propose within our organizations. What is the best way to deal with these negotiations?

Looking for an answer, I found a method of negotiating based on the principles developed in the Harvard Negotiation Project. According to the website Leader Summaries, the method is based on our circumstances and the search for mutual benefits, and not in a bargaining process in which each side says what it will do and what it won’t: “when interests become conflicted, let the result be based on fair norms and criteria, independent of desire or willingness of the parties. The principle-based negotiation method is tough on circumstances and easy on people”.

Let’s review the main ideas of the Harvard negotiation method developed by Ury, Fischer and Patton, following the outline by Leader Summaries:

Separating people from the problem

We frequently assume in negotiations (especially in corporative transactions) that we are dealing with the other parties’ representation, as if it were something abstract, and forget that they are people of flesh and bone. These speakers have emotions, deeply rooted values and different points of view.

Ury, Fischer, and Patton recommend that we understand the perceptions, emotions, and communication that we establish in the negotiation, in order to focus on the problem and adequately resolve the personal conditions.

Focus on interests, not positions

If we focus the negotiation on each party’s position, we will frequently find ourselves in a stalemate. We should instead focus the negotiation on interests: the shared and compatible ones, as others do the opposing or conflicting ones. The majority of negotiations have more shared and compatible interests than opposing ones.

Inventing options for mutual benefit

A very common problem in negotiations is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to divide the pie and satisfy both parties. Other times, we face only the choice to win or lose. To find other options, Ury, Fisher, and Patton point out that we must understand and overcome four frequent obstacles: (1) premature judgement, (2) looking for only one response, (3) assuming the pie is of a set size, and (4) thinking that “solving their problem is their problem.”

Insisting that objective criteria be used

As much as we talk about “win-win” strategies, the harsh reality is that each party is only looking out for their own interests, and confronting one party’s intentions with the other’s is frequently not enough. The solution is to identify objective criteria that serve as a base, independently of either parties’ willingness. The more efficient, impartial, or scientific these criteria are, the more likely it will be to achieve a good result.

Once these criteria have been identified, we must remember three basic points: (1) Formulate each issue as if it were a joint search for objective criteria, (2) Reason and be open to reason about which standards are the most appropriate and how they should be applied, and (3) Never give in to pressure, only to principles.




Author: Jorge Oropeza


Héctor Ortega, “El Dueño del No”, October 2019, hectorortega.mx

Summary of the book: “Obtenga el sí” by William Ury, Roger Fisher and Bruce Patton, Leader Summaries

William Ury, Roger Fisher and Bruce Patton; “Obtenga el sí. El arte de negociar sin ceder”, 2011, Ediciones Gestión 2000