The Program on Negotiation Mourns the Loss of Co-Founder Roger Fisher

By — on / Negotiation Skills

Roger Fisher, co-founder of the Program on Negotiation and the Harvard Negotiation Project, died on August 25 at age 90. A true pioneer and leader, he helped launch a new way of thinking about negotiation, and he worked tirelessly to help people deal productively with conflict.

“Through his writing and teaching, Roger Fisher’s seminal contributions literally changed the way millions of people around the world approach negotiation and dispute resolution,” commented Professor Robert H. Mnookin, Chair of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. “He taught that conflict is not simply a ‘zero-sum’ game in which a fixed pie is divided through haggling or threats. Instead, he showed how by exploring underlying interests and being imaginative, parties could often expand the pie and create value. Here at the Program on Negotiation and the Harvard Negotiation Project, both of which Roger helped launch, we, his colleagues, are committed to carrying on his work of improving the theory and practice of negotiation and dispute resolution.”

What started as a simple question, “What is the best way for people to deal with their differences?” became the first line of Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, which Roger Fisher co-authored with William Ury and Bruce Patton. This landmark book, which has sold over eight million copies, has been translated into 36 languages.

The ideas in Getting to Yes were truly revolutionary. Instead of coaching a party in dispute to fight competitively, the authors showed that you could give the same advice to both sides of a conflict – have a fair process, prepare well, inquire carefully, listen to learn, separate the people from the problem, and explore options to increase value – and both sides were likely to do better than they would have otherwise.

As his colleague Bruce Patton noted, “Roger sought unabashedly to ‘change the world,’ and he did so profoundly.”

On April 8, 2012, Harvard Law School honored Roger Fisher with a celebration of his career, research, and contributions to both the HLS community and the field of negotiation. The event included the opening of Roger Fisher’s papers in the Library’s Historical and Special Collections.

A video discussion of the beginnings of the Program on Negotiation, which they launched, included Roger Fisher and several colleagues. A band of negotiation scholars who helped found a field, they have remained collaborators for over 25 years. This video clip is an excerpt from a longer video, “A Conversation with the Founders: Reflections on the Program on Negotiation’s Beginnings”. For information on this and other materials relating to Roger Fisher, visit the PON website.

Related Article: Roger Fisher Papers Open at Harvard Law School Library

Related Video: Excerpt from The Founders of PON