A View From On High

Supreme_court_crest_(official)_svg12 May 2015: Lord Neuberger’s keynote at the Civil Mediation Conference 2015

“When I was in practice as a barrister, mediation was virtually unheard of in the world of United Kingdom civil litigation. When it came to legal disputes, there was litigation, there was arbitration and there was settlement. Of course there was mediation outside ordinary legal disputes – ACAS being a prime example. And some of us were aware that it was going on in other countries, but the general view was that it was fine for the Americans and Australians, but it was not for us: we didn’t need it…” [read more]

Getting to Yes – with Yourself


“In the morning when I look at myself in the mirror, I like to remind myself that I am seeing the person who is probably going to give me the most trouble that day, the opponent who will be the biggest obstacle to me getting what I truly want.”

So writes William Ury in his just published new book, Getting to Yes with Yourself. I have been privileged to work with William Ury on two occasions in recent years, and he is a man of warmth and humility, combined with clarity and great wisdom.

The distinguished co-author of the seminal Getting to Yes has come to the conclusion that the missing piece in all his writing about dealing with conflict is the inner one. Indeed, he describes this latest book as a “prequel” to Getting to Yes, the essential prerequisite to being able to achieve win-win, interest-based negotiated outcomes with others. Often, he observes, those who understand Getting to Yes fall back under pressure into costly and destructive win-lose methods, usually because they perceive others as “difficult people”, threatening to take advantage of them and to cause them loss.  We are, he says, “reaction machines”. Some of us will recognise this well. How often in a mediation do negotiations falter because of perceptions of the “others” and how they are behaving?

He writes that “very little in life may be under our full control, but the choice between yes and no is ours to make at any moment. We can choose to say yes or no to ourselves, to be either our best ally or our worst opponent. We can choose to say yes or no to life, to treat life either as friend or foe. We can choose to say yes or no to others, to relate to them either as possible partners or implacable allies. And our choices make all the difference.” In a negotiation, we have choices about how we react or relate to our counterparts.

I have often concluded training sessions with words from a poster in a hotel in Philadelphia which described the difference between something ordinary and something extraordinary as that little “extra”. Much of UK Sport’s successful Olympic programme, in which I was privileged to play a small part, was underpinned by the message that the difference lies at the margins, that very small things can make a huge difference. As a mediator, I see that often. It just takes a word, or a gesture, or a small concession…..

So, Ury suggests a number of apparently small changes that may make all the difference to each of us. Put yourself in your shoes –suspend your inner critic: what do you really need? Develop your inner BATNA (see Getting to Yes…) – who are you blaming for your own needs not being met? What are the costs? Can you take personal responsibility rather than blaming others? Reframe your picture – can you accept life as it is and not feel that it is always against you in some way? If you do, then what?  Stay in the zone – dispense with resentments about the past and anxieties about the future. Be personally present in the present. Respect others even if they don’t respect you – separating people from the problem was a central message of Getting to Yes; this reminds us that we can operate far better if we avoid being sucked into an antagonistic mind-set. Give and receive – Ury draws on the excellent work by another Harvard scholar Adam Grant, in his book Give and Take, which shows that thoughtful givers are in the longer run more successful. In other words, Ury says, moving from the apparent scarcity of the win/lose model to maximising gains all round can lead to a double – or triple – win. Much food for thought.

Reflecting the passage at the beginning of this article, Ury refers to President Theodore Roosevelt’s colourful observation: “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

Finally, though, it is about acceptance and respect, towards yourself as much as towards life and others. And, for advisers, this applies to your clients too – and your job may be to help them to get there, not because it is touchy feely to do so but because it makes commercial and practical sense and maximises the prospect of real gains.

This, says Ury,  should all be common sense but, in reality, it is uncommon sense: common sense that is uncommonly applied. Which may be where mediators have a role to play ……


Getting to Yes with Yourself is available from Harper Collins

John Sturrock’s video seminar with William Ury in September 2014: