Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The yessable proposition

with 4 comments

Years ago I read Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project. This book is invaluable and, were I to create a college curriculum, would be required reading. (Here is a summary of the book and here is an outline of the book.)

Because I was so impressed with the book, I set about teaching the method to co-workers. I figured that this would not only benefit them, it would ensure that I learned it at a deeper level (under the rubric that the best way to learn something is to teach it). And indeed, it worked, and I now use many of the methods without conscious thought.

One I found myself using yesterday. It is encapsulated in this proverb: “If you want a horse to jump a fence, make the fence as low as possible.” I.e., if you want some specific action taken, remove as many obstacles and impediments to that action as you can. This is why soda pop machines, which used to require exact change (a nickel, in my youth), were successively refined to make change, to accept any combination of coins, to accept bills, and to accept credit cards. Each step made it easier to jump the fence—i.e., to buy the soda.

From this comes the idea of the “yessable proposition”: working things through so completely that the person whose approval you have to get is required only to say “yes” or perhaps to place one signature on a document. One example of this is found in the purportedly real memorandum Completed Staff Work, available below as a PDF file.

When I was a manager, I would frequently get requests, such as a request for a new computer. I was astonished at those who seriously and sincerely wanted a new computer, but expected me, as their manager, to do all the work. I explained the idea of a yessable proposition to them, and had them complete all the necessary forms and paperwork and then present the request to me in a form that required only my signature. I did not feel that this was particularly unfair: it was they who wanted the computer, so it seemed logical that they should do the heavy lifting in the request.

I thought this idea might work for you: if you want someone to agree to do something, do all the research and prep work necessary to make doing the thing as easy as possible.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2006 at 7:37 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

4 Responses

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  1. the powerpoint link seems to be down


    mark w

    6 January 2007 at 9:02 pm

  2. You’re right. The site seems to have removed that file. I’ve replaced the link with links to a summary and an outline, though neither works quite so well as the book itself. And even reading the book is not quite enough to internalize the precepts—teaching it helps, practicing it over time is better. Fisher did create Getting Ready to Negotiate, a workbook intended to accompany Getting to Yes and guide you through its actual application in a negotiation.



    7 January 2007 at 8:02 am

  3. I like W. Ury’s advice on negotiating with stubborn people. But, there is one glaring problem with “do all the research and prep work necessary to make doing the thing as easy as possible.” Simple put, “no good deed goes unpunished” with (some) people who will blame you for your facilitating a thing that does not have the expected outcome that the recipient hoped for. Scapegoating.



    22 November 2014 at 4:39 am

  4. My impression is that scapegoating is a mindset (enthusiastically embraced by those who want authority but not responsibility) and that this mindset will seek scapegoats regardless of the performance of others—that is, whether you do the work or not, if the outcome is bad, the scapegoater will work to shift blame onto others, and may well select you. (For a good example of this mindset, listen to the 3-minute recording in this post.Those who scapegoat tend to fear being scapegoated themselves and will go to extraordinary lengths to make sure a course of action cannot be attributed to them—until after the fact, of course: once it’s clear that something is successful… well, you know: “Success has a thousand parents, failure is an orphan.”)

    But note that if you want something to happen, working to remove obstacles to its happening does make sense—at least to me. Consider: if you want something to happen, you would not ADD obstacles to its happening. And why? Because added obstacles reduce the likelihood of it happening. That also applies to obstacles you did NOT add. Indeed, that is what an obstacle is: an impediment. So in practical terms, I see no advantage to not removing obstacles, and indeed, to the contrary.

    I do agree that one should not go off and come back with a complete solution and expect it to be readily accepted. One obstacle that is common is that people find it harder to accept a product if they did not participate in the process. That’s an obstacle, and so that too must be dealt with by involving others in the production of the solution: one’s colleagues, and also those to whom the decider will turn to for advice and insight to help him decide. If they have been a part of the process—if only by having their thoughts solicited, perhaps by previously reviewed a draft of the proposal and given their thoughts—they are much more likely to accept the outcome and much less likely to =react negatively simply because they were taken by surprise. If they have skin in the game already, they are likely to support the proposal because it is in part their own. product as well.

    TL;DR: Refusing to deal with obstacles to an outcome you want because if the outcome fails you may be blamed is pretty much equivalent to avoiding action for fear of blame. It’s not a productive course, in my mind.



    22 November 2014 at 5:25 am

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