Roger D. Fisher’s ideas about negotiations have always sounded somewhat fuzzy. The Harvard law professor, who died recently at 90, was known for his 1981 best-seller with the hokey title “Getting to Yes.” The book’s big insight was that negotiators should look beyond incompatible positions and find a “win-win” solution.
But there’s nothing fuzzy about the impact of Fisher’s collaborative approach. Even before the book made Fisher famous, President Jimmy Carter used Fisher’s tactic of controlling a working draft agreement to streamline Egyptian and Israeli negotiations at Camp David. Fisher persuaded White House aides that it was worthwhile for President Reagan to attend a 1985 summit with Mikhail Gorbachev even without a concrete agenda. Apartheid-era South African leaders, Peruvian hostage negotiators, and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan have all turned to Fisher’s tactics in seeking ways out of sticky situations.
“Getting to Yes” seems like common sense today. But that’s due in part to Fisher’s ability to spread his ideas around the globe, in a host of different situations. His work has been a “win-win” for everyone.