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The authors explain their purpose this way, "We are not looking for a perfect solution." In most cases, the perfect solution is unattainable or will be endlessly delayed. A workable solution is much to be preferred. On the other hand, the power of this approach is clearly a major contribution to the conflict resolution literature, and contains insights that you would do well to capture and apply for yourself.
The book references Machiavelli in the title because he first asked the question of what once should advise princes. Since then, there has not been enough progress in answering that question. The book makes good headway in adding new insights and directions.
Although this book is aimed at (and explicitly discusses) conflicts in international relations, the authors also report that those using these techniques in negotiating workshops and exercises found them helpful in resolving business and legal issues as well. Having studied the book, heard Professor Fisher speak about it, and participated in a workshop to use this approach, I agree with that assessment. You can think of this book as the next phase beyond the landmark book, Getting to Yes, that Professor Fisher also coauthored.
Anyone who has gone to law school (which I admit I am guilty of) will recognize familiar elements of the legal analysis process. Yet the application is new and powerful.
Essentially, this book gives you the guidelines and examples you need to create:
-- a checklist of steps to analyze conflict
-- a set of analytic tools to figure out why the conflict is not settled and to offer a new approach that is better
-- an action plan built from a 2 page digest of a proposal, a 1 page list of talking points, and a to-do list for each party as next steps.
You are exhorted to focus on points of choice for the adversary, looking to your purposes in planning your moves rather than just reacting to what the other side does, and carefully choosing your purposes.
The process basically involves role playing that begins with seeing the problem from the point of view of the other side (this is nicely summarized in tables that show side-by-side comparisons of views on the same conflict elements); focusing on the choices open to the other side and influencing those choices (using tools of message analysis to get to intent); generating fresh ideas (by looking at the problem, diagnosing choices, looking at the approach being used, and reviewing action plans); formulating good advice ("What decision do you want the adverary to choose?"); and helping remove the causes of conflicts with process changes (creating new mediators, training people in this way of thinking, etc.).
The examples in the book cover every major conflict that you are likely to be familiar with in the last 40 years. They provide a useful reference point to the book's principles.
I was particularly impressed with the discussion of how to determine which advice is moral, and how to frame solutions so they would be well understood.
The key to this approach is to break down your thinking into step-by-step, smaller pieces. Those of you who have read Six Thinking Hats will recognize the benefits this can bring. By doing this, you can dissipate your own in-going perspective to capture the perspective of the person you want to convince.
Well done!
Good luck in using this approach to overcome misconception, communication, disbelief, procrastination, and bureaucratic stalls!
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VINE VOICEon 13 August 2003
This simply- and straightforwardly-written book reprises the ideas of the author's "Getting to Yes" in a specifically international context. If you want to get an idea of the theory behind the Harvard Negotiating School then "Getting to Yes" is the right thing to read; if you want to see application in the international context (eg Iraq in the first Gulf War), then choose this. I found it entertaining and some of the analysis very interesting indeed. What a pity the one book Bush admits he read at Harvard wasn't this one...or perhaps he did actually read the page which begins with an American General saying he thought understanding the other side's point of view in a conflict was completely the wrong thing to do, and didn't get as far as Fisher's comments. (Let alone what Clausewitz's would have been.) Don't misunderstgand me - I think this is a valuable book. But others may fit your needs better.
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