Book Review: Getting To Yes

Boy has it been way too long since I’ve done one of these. Sorry about that! For whatever reason, over the last couple of months I’ve found it hard to read at all, much less get through material as certainly dry as self-help genre stuff. On that note Getting To Yes isn’t generally found in the self-help section, but rather the business section. If I could make a simple and critical point however, many things in our lives are negotiations and especially our relationships and even more especially when they go south. So I’m not just going to review this book, I’m going to give you some advice on how to use it. The latter half of that sentence may have tipped you off, this is going to be a positive recommendation.

“Facts, even if established, may do nothing to solve the problem”

If I could describe Getting To Yes in a nutshell it would be to compare it to a book I’ve reviewed previously, What Makes Love Last, by John Gottman. Basically, the material in Getting To Yes is called principled negotiation, and it’s the basis for the negotiation techniques Gottman encourages you to employ to repair and retain trust, Getting To Yes is however more comprehensive. To put it another way, What Makes Love Last could be considered the application of Getting To Yes as strictly applied to romantic relationships.

I’m being a little simplistic in that statement, which isn’t entirely fair to either book, but that’s a quick and comprehensive tl;dr for Getting To Yes. On that note, Getting To Yes is a far more comprehensive explanation of principled negotiation while managing to come in a smaller, more condensed and quicker to read package. Throughout this review, I have peppered memorable quotes from Getting To Yes that I thought would have been helpful to include in What Makes Love Last.

“Give them a stake in the outcome by making sure they participate in the process”

Now for the cover critique, or should I say cover appreciation. Since Getting To Yes isn’t strictly a self-help section book it mercifully comes with a cover that can actually be read in public without drawing attention to yourself. Bye bye lipstick red covers, suggestive fruit, and vulva purses. You could actually be forgiven for casually reading this in a coffee shop, or on a lunch break at work, physically, sans the protection of an e-reader and its coverless covertness. What a breath of fresh air that is.

“…some people begin by announcing that their position is an issue of principle and refuse even to consider the other side’s case. ‘It’s a matter of principle’ becomes a battle cry in a holy ware over ideology.”

The prose is deadpan, dry, but well written. It’s what you’d expect from a book focused on business deals and other similar negotiations but at the very least it’s not laborious to get through or especially hard to read. The book is small in physical dimension, and while 200 pages is already fast to get through, the fact that the pages are also small and the font is still large enough to comfortably read, and adding in some white space for the generously peppered formatting, reading Getting To Yes can be done in an afternoon easily. One of my metrics for scoring any self-help book is how quickly the contents can be digested and put to use, and Getting To Yes scores very high here.

Cost is another serious metric to consider. If a certain book is 40 bucks but there are two other books for fifteen each that cover the topic more helpfully and more completely I’ll generally give the nod to the two. It’s an opportunity cost to read a book, and combined with the length and difficulty of the read it can make one book not worth reading over two or even three others. Getting To Yes knocks this one out of the park as well, usually under 20 bucks, but at the time of writing, UNDER EIGHT on Amazon for the paperback.

“If you want the other side to accept a disagreeable conclusion, it is crucial that you involve them in the process of reaching that conclusion”

So that’s the short of it, and that’s why Getting To Yes comes with a quick and strong recommendation. There’s something else I’d like to talk about though, that really makes this book very useful for me, and highlighted by a recent catastrophic failure to use the techniques therein—though I am unsure if that would have effected the outcome of said event.

Here’s the thing. You don’t need advanced negotiating techniques about unimportant things. You don’t necessarily need to know the difference between positional and principled negotiation to win the battle of the pizza toppings. You may win more battles of pizza toppings with such techniques, but losing the pizza topping battle isn’t a hill many of us are willing to die on in the first place and I hope something many of us wouldn’t even consider ‘losing’.

When an argument gets serious, consequential, and important however it also tends to be emotionally charged, and like many of you, that emotional charge on its own may rid me of the use of my toolbox of knowledge. Stress physiologically takes us out of our executive function and puts us into more primitive modes of thinking. I’m the good guy, you’re the enemy, at least, that’s what the stress is making me think. If you’re the source of my stress you’re dealing with the same part of my brain that teaches me how to deal with a hungry lion. People vary in this response, some freeze, some flee, some fight. I fight. This gets us into a bit of a circular conundrum. If the best time to use this knowledge is the time I’m least able to access the areas of my brain that contain it, how is it useful?

I don’t have a specific answer for that, but I know that for someone as prone to emotional flooding as I am, I’m going to need some sort of technique, some trick, some device, that backs me out of flooding the moment I hit it, because anything less is too late. The other participant in the conversation willing, I can postpone or even stop needless suffering while I recompose and remember all this training I’ve put myself through. I don’t have that technique yet, and I’m going to have to practice it once I come up with one. My major point here is that simply knowing this stuff may not be sufficient for you to start employing it. I flood very quickly relatively to my circumstances. General levels of pre-exisitng stress will effect how quickly each of us emotionally floods compared to our normal rate. But if your rate is generally high like mine, neither What Makes Love Last or Getting To Yes is going to help you when you need it the most. Practice detecting flooding in yourself, and in others, and have others, and particularly those that care about you the most, practice detecting flooding in you. Build a safety net, and use it, and then by all means, leverage what you learn in Getting To Yes.

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