Roger Fisher, co-author of one of the great books of our generation, “Getting to Yes”, and co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, died last week at age 90. Roger was my uncle (well, first cousin, once removed actually) and one of my heroes. If you don’t read farther than this first paragraph, remember this: “Getting to Yes” should be taught in every school in America. Period. The core idea is that, regardless of the distance between opposing parties, if they negotiate based on shared interests, not positions, both parties can win. My favorite image is this: everyone in a negotiation is on one side of the table; the problem is on the wall facing them. I can’t tell you how many times in my business, teaching, and personal life I have successfully used that idea.
Roger was behind the scenes of some of the most important peace-bringing events of the last 50 years: Camp David, South Africa, Nicaragua, and Bosnia. I got the following comment back from my friend and mediation and mediation expert Dan Steussy when I emailed him about Roger’s passing:
“It was such a privilege for me to meet him for that few minutes in Cambridge in 1991. How can I forget him apologizing for interrupting our meeting to take a call from Cy Vance in the run-up to the Balkans war?
I still have the recording of him on cassette tape of his NPR interview before the first Gulf War. His searing question regarding invading Iraq that still haunts today: “What do we do if we win?””
Others have posted great obituaries; I won’t try to repeat them. Roger was of the belief that impassioned discourse leads to great solution. Today our leaders debate based on positions, not shared interests. It is a shame. Roger would have made a great American political leader, but he was too principled to play that game.
I think back on this program and what I learned there in a few intense days with awe–a brilliant concept! And what was even more amazing was the program organizers’ passion for sharing the skills of negotiation and the ideas behind them with people from all sectors and all industries. I believe that a great deal of what we were able to accomplish at our school back in the 90s was a result of what a couple of us academic administrators learned there.
What an honorable legacy your uncle leaves!