Q&A with William Ury, author of Getting To Yes With Yourself

By on / Teaching Negotiation

Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?

We recently interviewed William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, one of the world’s leading experts on negotiation, and bestselling author of Getting to Yes and Getting Past No, about his new book, Getting To Yes With Yourself.

Great negotiators know that the path to resolution is not always linear but rather a series of switchbacks and obstacles. Ury proposes that one of our biggest obstacles is often overlooked: ourselves. Once we understand this and address our blind spots, we gain better mental clarity. In Getting To Yes With Yourself, which was selected by TIME magazine as one of the best negotiation books of 2015, Ury urges us to focus on ourselves in order to be better prepared for our adversaries. When activated through Ury’s Inner Yes Method, it is simple and powerful – and could make all the difference at the negotiation table.

Q: Bill, you talk about how this book is a prequel to your bestseller, Getting to Yes. Can you explain that thought process and the impetus for writing Getting to Yes With Yourself?

A: Getting To Yes brought to light the power of working together to achieve win-win solutions. This was a major shift from the conventional win-lose adversarial paradigm. In my 35 years in the field of negotiation, I have been helping people get to yes. Along the way, I have witnessed almost every roadblock imaginable. Most roadblocks are people and their reactions to difficult situations. Then it dawned on me; sometimes the most difficult opponent is the person staring back at you in the mirror.

There’s truth to the adage that sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. I really wanted to explore this topic and design solutions to help us through common self-inflicted sabotage.

Q. Speaking of that, what are the common ways that we often sabotage ourselves at the bargaining table?

A: Think about it – we have inner narratives running through our heads each day. Even before we arrive at the bargaining table: “Am I asking for too much?” “I’ll never get that promotion.” “I’m not good at public speaking.” We are continuously wrestling with our own insecurities.

And, during conflict, we often react in ways that do not serve our true interests. We get angry. We say things we don’t really mean. I have seen negotiations escalate to an eye-for-an-eye mode when I know the party I am representing wanted to work things out amicably. Why does this happen? Fear. Emotion. Not listening to our inner desires. Acting in a manner that we think others expect. There are a host of reasons why – but most of them derive from the fact that we are not listening to ourselves.

Q: You talk about reaching within yourself. What does that mean exactly?

A: It seems simple, but often the first thing we overlook when we approach a dispute is our own desires and BATNAs (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). We are so focused on the other party and what he or she may be asking for that we often lose sight of our own needs. It’s imperative to take time to evaluate our own truths, clear our heads of distractions and gain mental clarity. The whole premise for this book is making sure we are our own best allies. Putting ourselves in our own proverbial moccasins is the first step.

You are known around the globe as a skillful negotiator who has delivered resolution to some of the most contentious conflicts. Can you give us an example of how reaching within works?

Absolutely. Last year I was invited to work with a wealthy entrepreneur who had created one of the largest retailers in Latin America. He had sold control of his company to a French businessman and for nearly three years the two were locked in a very public and costly dispute over the details of the deal. The media touted it as the biggest cross-continental boardroom power struggle in recent history.

When I sat down with my client in his lovely home, I asked him what he wanted from this deal. He rattled off a list of items from stock price to headquarter’s location. I listened intently but sensed he longed for something more. So I said, “It seems to me you have everything you need right now: more money than you can ever spend, a loving family, and, at 76, your health. What do you truly want from this deal?” After more discussion, we arrived at his “aha moment.” He said he wanted his freedom. He wanted more freedom to spend time with his young children and to pursue his business dreams.

Once he was able to put himself in his own shoes and gain clarity on his own desires – instead of worrying about his adversary – hammering out the details of the business agreement became more focused. This insight gave him a point of reference and a sense of confidence, which released him from a defensive posture. My colleagues and I were able to build a mutually satisfying agreement within four days after a nearly three-year stalemate.

I share many more stories like this one in the book. It’s exciting to see the power of getting to yes with yourself – it truly is the starting point to any negotiation.

Q: What are the key benefits readers can derive from this book? Put another way, what is the main takeaway?

The book highlights a method of getting to yes with yourself through six essential steps:

  1. Put Yourself in Your Shoes
  2. Develop Your Inner BATNA
  3. Reframe Your Picture
  4. Stay in the Zone
  5. Respect Them Even If
  6. Give and Receive

These steps are not just for addressing major conflict, but are also useful in everyday interactions with our spouses, children, work colleagues and others. When used together as an integrated method, they can drive dramatic change and tremendous satisfaction in our lives.

In short, it is a new way to approach each day with introspection, generosity and a great sense of self-confidence.

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