The best books on negotiating for mutual advantage

Lawrence E. Susskind Author Of Good for You, Great for Me: Finding the Trading Zone and Winning at Win-Win Negotiation
By Lawrence E. Susskind

The Books I Picked & Why

The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes

By William Ury

Book cover of The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes

Why this book?

Bill Ury was one of the authors of the most important book in the negotiation field – Getting to Yes written more than 30 years ago. It challenged the win-lose model of negotiation that prevailed at the time. Bill and his partners Roger Fisher and Bruce Patton made it clear that we not only need to get agreement, when one is possible given the underlying interests of the parties, we also need to know how to defend our own interests in the face of inside and outside pressure. 

One of the reviewers of The Power of a Positive No said that the book “has the power to transform our lives by enabling us to say Yes to what counts – our own needs and values.” I’ve watched him in action; Bill’s three-step method works. First, you say what you really need. Then, you say no to proposals that don’t meet your interests and explain why. Then, you make a counter-offer that the other side can say yes to (while still meeting your interests very well. This book squares the circle and it is really easy reading. 


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Civic Fusion: Mediating Polarized Public Disputes

By Susan L. Podziba

Book cover of Civic Fusion: Mediating Polarized Public Disputes

Why this book?

Susan has helped a lot of people come together to work out their differences and achieve a common goal, even in the face of deeply-held conflicting values. She calls the kinds of processes she helps to design: civic fusion. Because she is a skilled mediator who has worked in all kinds of situations in many places, she is able to explain and illustrate how adding a “neutral” facilitator can overcome fundamental obstacles to agreement. The cases that she talks about, like a city that has gone bankrupt, thrown out its elected leaders and had to write a new charter to redefine the kind of democracy it wanted to be, actually pulled that off. 

She played a role in bringing together pro-life and pro-choice leaders for a private dialogue in which they were able to find common ground. Passion, power and conflict generate energy; Susan describes ways of channeling that energy to achieve shared objectives even in the face of strongly held beliefs that run in opposite directions. 


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Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well

By Sheila Heen, Douglas Stone

Book cover of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well

Why this book?

Doug and Sheila start with the assumption that we all want to learn and grow, but at the same time, we also want to be accepted just as we are. That means, we don’t want to be on the receiving end of evaluations, advice, criticism, or coaching that highlight our flaws. Most of us believe that feedback is essential for ensuring healthy relationships and ensuring our professional development, but as they point out, “we dread it and often dismiss it.” They see feedback as a step in the larger process of negotiation. When I try to convince you of something, I need to offer not just a demand, but an argument or evidence that makes sense to you and backs up what I’m saying.

Doug and Sheila have suggestions for how to avoid the traps (“triggers,” they call them) that get in the way of our accepting or even seeking feedback. They also show us how to “beat our blind spots” and learn despite them. Finally, they show how to turn what might be offered as an evaluation into a meaningful request for coaching. This book shows how to give and get feedback in a way that makes the exchange a lot less difficult.


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The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World

By Michael Wheeler

Book cover of The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World

Why this book?

Mike shows how to cope with chaos and uncertainty by avoiding rigid plans and entrenched positions. He sees negotiation as a process of joint exploration that requires continual learning and adaptation. For him, the keys are agility and creativity. I’ve had lots of opportunities to hear Mike describe the ways that improvisation in jazz, sports, theatre, and even military action can teach us about improvisation in everyday negotiation. Mike has elevated improvisation to a key aspect of negotiation, and he has done so in a most convincing way. 


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Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together

By William Isaacs

Book cover of Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together

Why this book?

Bill Isaacs offers a pioneering approach to communicating in business and in life. His book starts with the assumption that people don’t know how to talk in a way that will make it easier for them to work together with others to solve shared problems. His company, DIAlogos, has organized dialogues in a wide variety of public and private settings. In the book, his discussion of “the architecture of the invisible” makes clear why better communication begins with listening, respect, suspending our own opinions, and finding our voice. I’m particularly taken with his discussion of how we can “cultivate organizational and system dialogue.” He also has some important ideas about how we can return to civility in our public discourse in the current time when “Red” and “Blue” have forgotten how to communicate at all. 


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