Remembering a pioneer of the win-win solution

Roger Fisher’s contributions to the world of negotiation were enormous (“Roger Fisher, 90, Harvard Law professor and conflict resolution expert,” Obituaries, Aug. 28). When I entered law school in 1981, the same year that his book “Getting to Yes” was published, negotiation was still taught as a discipline requiring manipulation and hardball tactics. His core ideas about interest-based bargaining and win-win solutions are now used widely in business, law, and other fields.

One story from “Getting to Yes” captures succinctly several of those ideas. Two children are quarreling over an orange. Their mother slices the orange down the middle and gives each child half. But one wanted the orange to make juice, and the other wanted the rind for a cake. Each could have had the equivalent of a whole orange if they had communicated about their interests and capitalized on their differences.


Despite the popularity of Fisher’s books and his influence as a teacher, we still have much to learn from him. From backyard squabbles to worldwide diplomacy, we are only beginning to make Fisher’s model of principled negotiation the norm.

David Hoffman


The writer is a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School, where he teaches mediation.

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