The Art, Science & Wisdom of Negotiation

by Nikos | June 20, 2008


Negotiation:   Art, Science, and Wisdom or the Logic of Leverage

In 1689, the English House of Lords was debating what title to give Prince William of Orange, who had recently chased James II out of the country. Should he become king, regent, or prince consort? Prince William summoned a group of prominent lords to his apartments with this offer: Crown him king, or he and his army would go back to the Netherlands, James would return, and the lords’ heads would be in severe danger. Bingo! Within two days, the House of Lords decided that king was the right job title.

Such stories have a peculiar fascination. There seems to be a kind of innate logic at play, an awareness of the “golden moment,” when one side’s leverage is heightened. In more mundane terms, if you are negotiating a job, you are well positioned to negotiate the terms (including the job title) after the offer has been made (in William’s case, after James had fled), but before you accept it (before a new constitutional settlement had been worked out). If only we could master that logic, we would maximize our chances of coming out on top in all the negotiations we undertake — in business, politics, private life. Hence the stream of negotiation books, which package that logic in different styles — reflective, analytical, or wisecracking.

Among these books, few have rivaled Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (Houghton Mifflin), the 1981 book written by Roger Fisher and William Ury. The original edition of Getting to Yes was developed at Harvard University’s Negotiation Project, which introduced an approach that focuses on mutual interests and fairness, not on maintaining positions and winning the contest of will. That approach has been credited with helping political leaders resolve difficult conflicts around the world. (In the spirit of disclosure, I should add that in 1975 I designed and helped Roger Fisher teach the Harvard course that preceded the book.)


Originally Published in Strategy+Business, December 2006


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