Getting to Yes

Roger Fisher, William Ury

I heard this book was supposedly the authoritative text on conflict mediation, though if that turns out to be true or not still eludes me. The basis of the theory was developed at the Harvard Negotiation Project. The book outlines a method of conflict resolution that is reported to work 100% of the time, so long as the trouble parties involved only care more about the material interests at the core of the conflict. But there is an unfortunate corollary: it will not work whenever the material interests are eclipsed by the desire for the destruction of the opposing party. This puts a hard upper-limit on the exact effectiveness of this particular method, making it better meant for preventing smaller conflicts from escalating into larger ones.

Having read it, I can at least say the theory is sound; but things are always better on paper than they are in practice. I'm also not entirely satisfied with the recommendations the authors had for dealing with power differentials between various parties. Even still, what is listed here is a damn-sight better than how most respond to conflict. A key passage of the text is about how the goal should never be to simply eliminate or suppress conflict, but to instead be more intelligent about how to deal with it.

If only it could end there, is the problem... While I cannot doubt the effectiveness and need of alternative conflict/dispute resolution that is outlined in this book, it also reveals a possible way that it could then be weaponized. Arbitration is one of the most common-and-reliable types of dispute management which Getting to Yes is based on, but large-scale, powerful corporations (and other orgs of similar heft) often try to preempt the process by forcing a large number of the people they interface with into “mandatory binding arbitration agreements.” Under those terms, should a conflict between the organization and one of those third parties break out at a later time, the large organization can then control the situation to their favour in advance of the conflict itself, by setting the time and place of the arbitration to a venue, law firm, or judge which could be liable to influence proceedings accordingly. These, of course, very much undermine the precepts which Getting to Yes claims as its virtues.

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