Reading Assignment: William Ury, Getting Past No


Interest-based bargaining, as discussed in Getting to Yes, is, in a very real sense, dependent upon the goodwill of the parties. It assumes that both sides are at least willing to engage in a good faith effort to try to craft an agreement which leaves both parties better off. The problem which Getting Past No addresses is that not all parties to conflict are willing to engage in such collaborative problem-solving efforts. Everyone knows of cases in which people appear to be so intransigent that any negotiation effort seems doomed to failure. Ury offers a very practical five-step strategy for dealing with the "difficult" people who create such situations.

Ury's first step, "don't react," is aimed at breaking the cycle of escalation which typically intensifies a dispute and reinforces the intransigent behavior of the "difficult" parties. Ury's next step, "disarm them," is aimed at breaking down destructive stereotypes. Frequently, difficult parties justify their behavior with claims that their opponents do, in some way, force them to pursue a hard-line strategy. The goal of disarming strategies is to present evidence that this is not the case.

Ury's third step, "change the game," is designed to help the parties reframe issues in ways which allow them to sidestep what is likely to be a "'tis-'tain't" standoff without losing face. At this point, Ury believes that it should become possible to start to exploring options for mutual gain. His fourth step, "make it easy for them to say yes," concentrates upon offering the difficult person an attractive option which they are likely to want to accept. To further seal the deal, he proposes a fifth step, "make it hard to say no," in which an effort is made to make the cost of failing to reach an agreement clearly apparent. Here the focus is more upon lost opportunities and less upon threats.

While this approach might not be able to successfully resolve truly intractable conflicts over issues such as abortion and homosexuality, it can go a long way toward achieving an agreement in many apparently hopeless negotiating situations.


Writing Assignment (To be submitted for evaluation):


You are again asked to first select a real world conflict problem. This time, however, you need to pick one which is likely to be amenable to Ury's strategy for dealing with difficult people. As with the last assignment, you should feel free to use any case that you want as the foundation for this assignment (except for the examples used in the text). Examples of the kinds of cases that you might wish to address include the following:

An employee's efforts to "mend fences" with a "hard-to-work-for" employer who may have incorrectly gotten the impression that the employee viewed him with disrespect and was trying to undermine his authority.

A strategy for approaching a school board member who refuses to consider your side of an issue because he is so angry at the way that he has been treated by a few of your "allies."

A parent's efforts to reverse the deteriorating relationship with their teenage son or daughter, or a teenage son or daughter's efforts to reverse a deteriorating relationship with their parents.

You are then asked to describe exactly how the Ury's approach could be applied to the your case. It is important that you write clearly and succinctly producing a position paper of about 2500 words.

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