Chicago — William Ury is the author of the Old and New Testaments on negotiations: “Getting to Yes” and “Getting Past No.”
I’ve been required to read both, first in public policy school and again in business school. They’re the kind of books that get weathered from repeatedly being yanked open in the hours before a difficult conversation.
Ury recently embarked on a book tour for the third installment in the trilogy, “Getting to Yes with Yourself (And Other Worthy Opponents),” making a stop in the Chicago area.
“Actually, perhaps the most difficult person we have to deal with in the course of the day is the person we look at in the mirror every morning,” Ury said. “We’re reaction machines. You know as Ambrose Bierce once said, ‘Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.’ ”
He thinks a greater inward focus during negotiations can prevent three terrible reactions:
Chickening out. At the last moment, wracked with fear, you don’t ask for the raise you want.
You hit reply all.
You hold it together at work but lash out at your spouse or children when you arrive home.
“They don’t serve our true, long-term interests,” Ury said.
He tells this story to illustrate the business case.
A few years ago, Brazil’s most famous retailer, Abilio dos Santos Diniz, was locked in a titanic struggle with his business partner, a Paris-based retailer controlled by Jean-Charles Naouri, which had gone on for 21/2 years. The Financial Times had described it “as one of the biggest cross-continental boardroom showdowns in history.”
Diniz’s wife and daughter called in Ury, who asked Diniz what he wanted. The reply was that he wanted the company’s stock at a certain price and the elimination of a bunch of people.
“Yeah, but what do you really want?” Ury recalled asking. “After a while, he finally said, ‘Freedom.’ You know. ‘I want my freedom.’ Freedom from what? ‘Well, freedom to pursue my business deals. To spend time with my family.’ Once we had that understood, then I asked him, ‘Who can really satisfy that deep need of yours for freedom? Who can give you that freedom? Is it really just the other side of the negotiation?’ ”
In four days, the situation was resolved with Diniz stepping down as president of Brazil’s biggest retailer, a company his father founded. Diniz set up a new office, started pursuing new deals and took his family on vacation, Ury said.
“That, psychologically, believe or not, made the difference because it made the negotiation much easier,” Ury said. “Because if you negotiate when you’re entirely psychologically dependent on the other side, you think only they can satisfy your human needs.”
It’s not the same as backing down. It’s more like, when analyzing the battlefield before combat, the most important question should be whether your troops are ready. It’s a question of introspection.
“Abilio said, you know, ‘I got my life back,’ ” Ury said. “In some ways, we’ve been negotiating all this time with one arm tied behind our backs. We’ve been focused just on external influence, on influencing the person on the other side of the table and neglecting the possibilities of influencing ourselves.”