Getting to Yes with Yourself
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Getting to Yes with Yourself

William Ury

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eBook - ePub

Getting to Yes with Yourself

William Ury

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About This Book

William Ury, coauthor of the international bestseller Getting to Yes, returns with another groundbreaking book, this time asking: how can we expect to get to yes with others if we haven't first gotten to yes with ourselves?

Renowned negotiation expert William Ury has taught tens of thousands of people from all walks of life—managers, lawyers, factory workers, coal miners, schoolteachers, diplomats, and government officials—how to become better negotiators. Over the years, Ury has discovered that the greatest obstacle to successful agreements and satisfying relationships is not the other side, as difficult as they can be. The biggest obstacle is actually our own selves—our natural tendency to react in ways that do not serve our true interests.

But this obstacle can also become our biggest opportunity, Ury argues. If we learn to understand and influence ourselves first, we lay the groundwork for understanding and influencing others. In this prequel to Getting to Yes, Ury offers a seven-step method to help you reach agreement with yourself first, dramatically improving your ability to negotiate with others.

Practical and effective, Getting to Yes with Yourself helps readers reach good agreements with others, develop healthy relationships, make their businesses more productive, and live far more satisfying lives.

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Know thyself? If I knew myself, I’d run away.
While I was writing this book, I was approached for help by the wife and daughter of Abilio Diniz, a highly successful and prominent businessman from Brazil. Abilio was involved in a complex and protracted dispute with his French business partner, fighting over control of Brazil’s leading supermarket retailer, a company that Abilio and his father had built up from a single bakery. While Abilio had sold controlling shares to the French, he remained as chair and major shareholder. A partnership that had started well years earlier had turned bitter. Two major international arbitration cases were in process as was a big lawsuit. The battle was the subject of constant speculation in the media. Who was winning? The Financial Times called the dispute “one of the biggest cross-continental boardroom showdowns in history.”
Trapped in a conflict from which he could see no way out—a fight that consumed his time and resources—Abilio felt angry and frustrated. The general expectation was that the fierce battle, which had lasted for two and a half years, would go on for another eight years, by which point he would be well into his eighties.
After studying the case carefully, I had a chance to talk extensively with Abilio and his family at his home in São Paulo. As complicated and difficult as the conflict with the French partner seemed, I sensed that the first and fundamental obstacle lay within Abilio himself. A man of dignity, he felt very disrespected and ill-treated by his business partner. He did not know what he really wanted most, to fight or to settle. In and out of the boardroom, he often found himself reacting out of anger in ways that went contrary to his interests. Like most of us, he was his own worthiest opponent.
The first step in resolving the dispute, it seemed to me, was for Abilio to figure out his true priorities. So I asked him, “What do you really want?” His first response was to give me a list: he wanted to sell his stock at a certain price; he wanted the elimination of a three-year noncompete clause that prevented him from acquiring other supermarket companies; and he wanted a number of other items including real estate. I pressed him again. “I understand you want these concrete items. But what will these things give you, a man who seems to have everything? What do you most want right now in your life?” He paused for a moment, looked away, then turned back to me and said with a sigh: “Freedom. I want my freedom.” “And what does freedom give you?” I asked. “Time with my family, which is the most important thing in my life,” he replied. “And freedom to pursue my business dreams.”
Freedom then was his deepest need. Freedom is important to all of us but it had special resonance for Abilio because of a harrowing experience in his past. Years earlier, while leaving his home, he had been kidnapped by a band of urban guerrillas. Confined in a tiny cubicle with two pin-size holes for air and assaulted by intensely loud music, Abilio thought he would be killed at any moment. Fortunately, he was rescued in a surprise police raid after a week in captivity.
Once Abilio and I had clarity on his deepest need, freedom became the “north star” for our work together, orienting all our actions. When my colleague David Lax and I were able to sit down to negotiate with the other side, we were able to resolve within just four days this bitter and protracted dispute that had gone on for years. The solution was surprisingly satisfying for everyone, as I will recount later in this book.
We all wish to get what we want in life. But the problem is that, like Abilio, what we really want is often not clear to us. We may want to satisfy others in our lives too: our spouse or partner, colleagues, clients, even our negotiating opponents. But the problem is that what they really want is also often not clear to us.
When people ask me what is the most important skill for a negotiator, I usually respond that, if I had to pick just one, it would be the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Negotiation, after all, is an exercise in influence, in trying to change someone else’s mind. The first step in changing someone’s mind is to know where that mind is. It can be very difficult, however, to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, particularly in a conflict or negotiation. We tend to be so focused on our own problems and on what we want that we have little or no mental space to devote to the other side’s problem and what they want. If we are asking our boss for a raise, for instance, we may be so preoccupied with solving our problem that we don’t focus on the boss’s problem, the tight budget. Yet unless we can help the boss solve that problem, the boss is unlikely to be able to offer us a raise.
There is one key prior move, often overlooked, that can help us clarify both what we want and, indirectly, what the other person wants. That move is to put yourself in your own shoes first. Listening to yourself can reveal what you really want. At the same time, it can clear your mind so that you have mental and emotional space to be able to listen to the other person and understand what he or she really wants. In the example of the raise, hearing yourself out first can help you listen to your boss and understand the problem of the tight budget.
Putting yourself in your shoes may sound odd at first because, after all, are you not already in your own shoes? But to do it properly is not nearly as easy as it might appear. Our natural tendency is to judge ourselves critically and to ignore or reject parts of ourselves. If we look too closely, we may feel, as Goethe says, like running away. How many of us can honestly say that we have plumbed the depths of our minds and hearts? How many of us regularly listen to ourselves with empathy and understanding—in the supportive way that a trusted friend can?
Three actions can help. First, see yourself from the “balcony.” Second, go deeper and listen with empathy to your underlying feelings for what they are really telling you. Third, go even deeper and uncover your underlying needs.


Benjamin Franklin, known as a highly practical and scientific man, reflected in Poor Richard’s Almanack more than two and a half centuries ago, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” His advice was: “Observe all men; thyself most.”
If you observe yourself and others in moments of stress during negotiation and conflict, you will notice how easily people become triggered by the other person’s words, tone of voice, and actions. In virtually every dispute I have ever mediated—whether it is a marital spat, an argument in the office, or a civil war—the pattern is reaction followed by reaction followed by yet another reaction. “Why did you attack him?” “Because he attacked me.” And on it goes.
When we react, we typically fall into what I call the “3A trap”: we attack, we accommodate (in other words, give in), or we avoid altogether, which often only makes the problem grow. Or we use a combination of all three approaches. We may start off avoiding or accommodating, but soon enough, we can’t stand it anymore and we go on the attack. When that backfires, we lapse into avoiding or accommodating.
None of these three common reactions serves our true interests. Once the fight-or-flight reaction gets triggered, the blood flows from our brain to our limbs, and our ability to think clearly diminishes. We forget our purpose and often act exactly contrary to our interests. When we react, we give away our power—our power to influence the other person constructively and to change the situation for the better. When we react, we are, in effect, saying no to our interests, no to ourselves.
But we have a choice. We don’t need to react. We can learn to observe ourselves instead. In my teaching and writing, I emphasize the concept of going to the balcony. The balcony is a metaphor for a mental and emotional place of perspective, calm, and self-control. If life is a stage and we are all actors on that stage, then the balcony is a place from which we can see the entire play unfolding with greater clarity. To observe our selves, it is valuable to go to the balcony at all times, and especially before, during, and after any problematic conversation or negotiation.
I recall one tense political mediation session when the president of a country was shouting angrily at me for almost thirty minutes, accusing me of not seeing the tricks of the political opposition. What helped me keep calm was to silently take note of my sensations, emotions, and thoughts: Isn’t it interesting? My jaw feels clenched. I notice some fear showing up. My cheeks feel flushed. Am I feeling embarrassed? Being able to recognize what I was feeling helped me to neutralize the emotional effect that the president’s shouting had on me. I could watch the scene from the balcony as if it were a play. Having recovered myself, I was then able to recover the conversation with the president.
This is the point: whenever you feel yourself triggered by a passing thought, emotion, or sensation, you have a simple choice: to identify or get identified. You can observe the thought and “identify” it. Or you can let yourself get caught up in the thought, in other words, “get identified” with it. Naming helps you identify so that you don’t get identified. As you observe your passing thoughts, emotions, and sensations, naming them—Oh, that is my old friend Fear; there goes the Inner Critic—neutralizes their effect on you and helps you to maintain your state of balance and calm. My friend Donna even likes to give humorous names to her reactive emotions such as “Freddy Fear,” “Judge Judy,” and “Anger Annie.” (Humor, incidentally, can be a great ally in helping you regain perspective from the balcony.) As soon as you name the character in the play, you distance yourself from him or her.
Observing ourselves so that we don’t react may seem easy, but it is often tough to do, particularly in the heat of a difficult conversation or negotiation. As one business executive recently said to me, “I think of myself as a calm, cool person. And I am that way at work. But then sometimes, I find myself snapping at my wife. Why can’t I stay calm like I am at work?” Like this husband, when our emotions get triggered, we all too often “fall off the balcony.” If we want to be able to consistently rely on self-observation to keep us from reacting, it helps greatly to exercise it like a muscle on a daily basis.
Recently, I came across a mother’s account of witnessing her own growing frustration in dealing with her four-year-old. Charlotte, the mother, wants to have a close and trusting relationship with her son, but his refusal to go to bed night after night triggers powerful reactions in her. Her account illustrates how difficult it is to resist the temptation to react and how practicing self-observation can help us make better choices. Charlotte writes:
Being both fascinated by and fearful of my new-found emotionality, I began to watch more closely what anger really felt like. The first thing I noticed was its seduction, its sexiness. There were times I could almost see myself at the emotional crossroads where one path led to calm, open-hearted resolution, the other to explosive anger. And it was hard, very hard at times, not to plunge down the latter. At the moment, giving expression to my anger felt like the thing I most wanted to do; its allure was profoundly powerful and overwhelmingly convincing.
Charlotte investigates with curiosity the strong temptation to explode at her child and gets a glimpse of the “crossroads,” the point at which she can either give in to the anger or approach the situation in a calm way. If she gives in to her anger, her son will distance himself out of self-protection. If she remains calm, she can advance her core interest in a close and trusting relationship with him. What helps her maintain her state of balance is her ability to recognize the reactive pattern night after night, and to see that she actually has a choice not to react. As Charlotte realizes, self-observation is the foundation of self-mastery.
Try this yourself if you like. Investigate the feelings and reactive patterns that are triggered in you by a problematic relationship at home or at work. Notice the anger, fear, and other disturbing emotions that arise in you as you interact with the other person. Like Charlotte, learn to go to the balcony and observe these emotions and how they make you feel. See if you can spot your own crossroads, the moment in which you can choose between an impulsive reaction and a considered response that advances your true interests.
To develop a habit of self-observation, it helps to cultivate your inner scientist. You are the investigator, and the subject of your investigation is yourself. Psychologists even have a name for this: they call it “me-search.” Approaching your thoughts and feelings with a spirit of inquiry—as Charlotte does when she examines the feelings triggered by her son’s behavior—will help you keep your balance and calm. Mastering the skill of observation requires, moreover, that, like a good scientist, you observe the phenomenon with detachment and an open mind. It requires that you suspend self-judgment to the extent possible.
It is all too easy to judge our thoughts and emotions, to see them as wrong or right, bad or good. But in a psychological sense, there is nothing really wrong that we can feel or think. Actions can be wrong, but not thoughts or feelings. As inner scientists, we simply treat even the darker thoughts and emotions as interesting research material. I find a simple but powerful question to keep asking myself is: “Isn’t that curious?” The question creates distance and opens the way to inquiry rather than judgment. As I have cultivated my own practice of self-observation over the years, I have come increasingly to appreciate the dictum of the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti: “To observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”
One way to train yourself to observe without judgment is to reserve a period of time once a day—it could be as little as five or ten minutes—to sit quietly in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and simply watch your passing thoughts and feelings, almost as if the sky were observing the passing clouds. If you get caught up in a thought or feeling, or even if a harsh self-judgment shows up, treat it as perfectly fine. Simply notice that you were caught up and go back to observing. The more you engage in this exercise of mindfulness, the easier it becomes. Bit by bit, you familiarize yourself with the workings of your mind.
Imagine a glass of water that you have just filled from the faucet. It is full of fizz and you cannot see through it. If you wait a moment and let the water settle, however, the bubbles slowly dissipate and the water turns crystal clear. That i...

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