Remembering Roger D. Fisher and ‘Getting to Yes’

Clicking the image takes you to the NYTimes obituary.One of the original “YES” men is gone.
On August 25, pioneering peacemaker Dr. Roger D. Fisher—most famous for co-authoring the landmark book Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In died at age 90 after a struggle with dementia. More important than the book itself were his decades of behind-the-scenes consultations with leaders all around the planet that resulted in key steps toward world peace.

THE NEW YORK TIMES OBITUARY of Roger Fisher says in part: Professor Fisher is credited with helping initiate the summit meeting between the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan in 1985, convincing Reagan staff members that just meeting to brainstorm and build relations was more important than settling a specific agenda.

In 1979, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance went to Professor Fisher’s house on Martha’s Vineyard before the meeting at Camp David that would lead to a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. Professor Fisher suggested to Mr. Vance the “single negotiating text” method that was used to bring the parties together, said Bruce M. Patton, who wrote “Getting to Yes” with Professor Fisher and worked on many diplomatic projects with him. The strategy involved having President Jimmy Carter alone be responsible for writing solutions and letting the other leaders shape the treaty through a back-and-forth critiquing process.


International peacemaker Daniel Buttry writes about Roger Fisher, Getting to YES, and the innovative peacemaking work of Fisher and his co-author William Ury in Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Buttry writes in part:

Steps to win-win solutions have become a centerpiece in my own workshops to train peace activists. William Ury and Roger Fisher’s 1981 book, Getting to YES, put this process together in such a clear way that I’ve been able to teach it to my children. I remember overhearing my daughter Janelle use a rough form of it as she mediated between two elementary-age playmates. In various corners of the world, I’ve taught insurgents negotiating with governments how to work toward win-win solutions—and afterward I’ve heard Ury’s terminology in press statements.

Sometimes transformation comes when simple ideas are set down in plain language. “Win-Win” is common parlance in almost any discussion of conflict from politics to labor-management issues. This is the gift of William Ury and Roger Fisher, who wrote Getting to YES. First published in 1981, the book is already a classic in the field of conflict study and the practice of conflict resolution. Translated into more than 30 languages, their ideas have been the subject of doctoral dissertations and grassroots training in conflict zones.

Fisher and Ury challenge readers to move away from negotiating over positions, which inevitably is adversarial and becomes a conflict in which one party wins and the other loses, or perhaps both lose. Instead, they focus on the needs and interests of the parties, separating the people from the problem. “A basic fact about negotiation, easy to forget in corporate and international transactions, is that you are dealing not with abstract representatives of the ‘other side,’ but with human beings.” They urge, “Be hard on the problem, soft on the people.”

Their approach challenges people to begin by focusing on collective needs and interests, which usually moves people past initial defensiveness and fear. Soon, participants are collaborating as they brainstorm ways to meet their needs.

Shortly after their collaboration on the book, Fisher and Ury co-founded the Program on Negotiation (PON) at Harvard Law School. Established in 1983, the PON is “a university consortium dedicated to developing the theory and practice of negotiation and dispute resolution.” The PON has drawn together scholars, students and practitioners to work on creating a new generation of negotiators in many spheres of social, political and economic life.

Visit the Blessed Are the Peacemakers web page for more about Buttry’s book, which contains many profiles of contemporary pioneers in peace.


This 10-minute video showcases the founders of Harvard’s world-renowned Program on Negotiation. If you do not see a video screen to click in your version of this story, try clicking here to reload the entire story in your web browser.


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