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«O nce upon a time, before I went to college, my mother worried. I didn’t know how to prepare what she called “any decent meals.” So she bought ...»

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O nce upon a time, before I went to college, my mother worried. I didn’t know how to prepare what she called “any decent

meals.” So she bought me a copy of The Joy of Cooking, and sat me

down to watch and learn. She opened the cookbook to a favorite

recipe and began to show me how to make it.

“Here it says use vegetable oil, but I always use olive oil.”

And then “here it says use chili peppers, but I always leave those

out, because the dish gets too spicy.” And on it went. Just like that.

“It says here to add salt, but never do that—salt is bad for your heart.” After some time, I interrupted the process.

“What is the point of the recipe if you do whatever you want anyway?” I asked.

And then, as sometimes happened in my mother’s bright red kitchen, a pearl of wisdom was passed down to me in the uniquely memorable Louise Fox way.

“Listen to your mother. A meal becomes good by starting with quality instructions. It becomes great when you add a quality chef.” Since that day more than twenty years ago, I’ve come to understand my mother’s teaching as a proverb that applies far beyond cooking. Actually, it applies to every important activity in our lives.

In negotiating the highways and byways of life, recipes can take us only so far. Beyond getting the right ingredients or dutifully following instructions, to become a “quality chef ”—in cooking and in life—we need to reach beyond the fundamentals and learn to adapt, improvise, and innovate as life demands. We need to use not only our utensils—our “best practices” and techniques—but also our inner strengths and deeper wisdom.

The key to mastery, to achieving greatness, in the kitchen or in the boardroom, is not your toolbox. It’s you.

Getting Out of Our Own Way Life is a series of attempts to get things right. You work to achieve your goals. You hope to fulfill your potential. And you want to be a good person. You aim to live well, love and be loved, and if all goes well, make a contribution. Some of these come easily; others don’t.

You do the best you can.

Still, despite your best efforts, things don’t always go according to plan.

Who hasn’t said or done the wrong thing, making a bad situation worse? Or said nothing, when we might have made a difference if we had? Who hasn’t lain in bed at night thinking, “I can’t believe I said that!” or “Why didn’t I speak up when I had the chance?” We may especially beat ourselves up when we fall into the same old traps. “I did it again... even though I knew better.” Everyone has some version of this experience. You prepare for an important meeting, or a weighty conversation. You think in advance about what you want to say. And then, in the moment of truth, it doesn’t go the way you pictured it thenight before.

The interesting thing is how often the difference doesn’t come from what other people said or did. We like to point fingers, yes.

But in truth, the reversal of fortune from the night before quite

–  –  –

In a conversation for a promising contract, Tonia, who owns her own business, is surprised when a potential client pushes back on her fees. She’d gone into the meeting intending to be flexible—new opportunities had all but disappeared since the economy tanked. But in the moment, Tonia feels insulted and undervalued. She walks away from the engagement, despite needing the work and having a decent offer on the table.

While meeting with a valued client of his firm, Pierre learns that the client rejected his recommendations for upgrading their IT system. The client tells Pierre why he doesn’t think the strategy will work for them. Pierre knows he should use the “active listening” he learned in a seminar. But he’s proud of the strategy, and believes it’s right for the client. Pierre explains why the reservations are unfounded, laying out again the merits of the proposal. The client doesn’t want to argue. Instead, he asks Pierre’s boss for a different consultant.

Susan comes home from a long day at work and wants to connect with her family. At the dinner table, she describes her taxing day at the office. Her husband, Mike, complains that Susan isn’t paying enough attention to their daughter Jennifer, who’s struggling at school. Susan bristles. “My job isn’t the cause of Jenny’s problems,” she says.

Mike disagrees. “You seem more concerned with your

–  –  –

Despite our best intentions, we often miss opportunities and generate breakdowns. We walk away from good deals, harm relationships, and generally act against our own interests. Plenty of books tell us what to do about “difficult people.” The truth is we need advice for succeeding when the difficult person is us.

Until now, experts have paid little attention to mapping the myriad ways we get in our own way. Yet when push comes to shove, we are often our own worst enemy.

The advice we do get about improving ourselves emphasizes changing our behavior to get better results: we should assert less, or assert more; listen, and ask more questions. The problem is that focusing on tactics and techniques misses the mark in many cases, because you’re throwing darts at the wrong board.

Remember my mother’s advice on cooking. Trying to fix behavior is like focusing on a recipe. It’s necessary, but insufficient to achieve high performance. You’ll start seeing big impact when you pay attention to what you, the “chef,” are bringing to the meal.

Lasting change starts with you.

Despite what you might think, what happens inside you is something you can change. If you know how. When you do that, you start making new choices, and getting better outcomes. You feel good about how you get things done. And you’re much more likely to make a meaningful difference.

This book takes that challenge head-on.

Winning from Within provides insight into how you get in your

xviii | introduction

own way and what to do about it. It gives you a map for understanding your inner world, and a method for sorting yourself out.

By understanding yourself and the common traps you fall into, you’ll learn to turn breakdowns into breakthroughs, whether you’re struggling with a difficult colleague or arguing with your teenage son. If you practice the steps in this book, over time you’ll stop planting your own minefields. And better yet, you’ll finally be able to capture life’s wonderful opportunities when they come your way.

My Journey

I came to write this book by standing on the shoulders of giants. In 1981, my mentors in the Harvard Program on Negotiation (PON), William Ury and the late Roger Fisher, wrote the landmark Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, a book that has since sold more than 3 million copies. Their work changed the negotiation game by introducing the famed “Harvard Concept”— how to “separate the people from the problem”—and calling for “win-win” collaboration over blind competition for the mutual benefit of all concerned.

In 1999, my friends Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen built on those ideas in their best-selling book, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. They shared the new best practices from PON, addressing what had become a recurring question about the first theory: what happens when you can’t separate the people from the problem, because, in fact, the other people are the problem? They introduced the notion of the “three conversations” to help resolve that quandary.

I’d graduated from Harvard Law School (HLS) in 1995 and

introduction | xix

started teaching there in 1996. HLS is the home of PON, the leading think tank in the world on making deals and resolving disputes.

PON has been my professional home for nearly two decades, for which I am profoundly grateful. I was blessed with the mentorship of luminaries in the field, from thought leaders to pioneers in practice. I also built friendships in my early years at PON, with people who remain my inner circle to this day.

As a protégé of Roger and William, and as a colleague of Doug, Bruce, and Sheila, I taught the material contained in these books to Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, not-for-profits, and every kind of organization in between. I had the privilege to share these ideas on nearly every continent. I also learned the art of developing new frameworks and methodology.

In addition to taking negotiation workshops like ours, our clients had often studied the bestselling books on effective habits and how to influence people. They certainly knew what they “should” do to succeed. Yet all too often, in the heat of the moment, they’d lose sight of their goals. They’d find themselves failing to speak up at a meeting; lambasting a co-worker before hearing her out;

leaving money on the table when they might have gotten more; or vowing to communicate gently with a spouse but snapping sarcastically instead.

I had to wonder. Why weren’t the best practices we’d taught these professionals—such as focusing on interests rather than positions, or listening carefully to people with strong emotions— enough? When push came to shove, why did people shut down, lash out, or avoid the conflict altogether?

I saw a clear need for a new and deeper approach to leading and living. I was inspired to resolve this disconnect between what people know they should say and what they actually do every day. I was

xx | introduction

determined to work toward a practical solution, following in the PON tradition of linking theory and real-world usefulness.

The ideas in this book sprang from these realizations, but also from two other experiences: the death of both of my parents within one year and, during that same twelve-month period, the events of September 11, 2001.

The Personal Side of the Story

On Friday afternoon, November 10, 2000, I called my mother to wish her a peaceful Sabbath, as I always did before lighting my candles. That Saturday night, my sister called to tell me that Mom was in the hospital. She had collapsed from a stroke. By Sunday, November 12, she was gone.

For the next year I said memorial prayers for my mother every day. My main focus was to support my dad. He’d lost his companion of forty years.

As I weathered this year of personal challenge, a national tragedy took place: the events of September 11, 200l.

The sense of shock, grief, loss, and disarray was overwhelming for everyone. Stories poured forth about the workers in the towers, the passengers on the planes, the fire and police crews who had rushed to the rescue.

As a conflict resolution professional, I found myself profoundly disturbed. Getting to Yes and the worldview behind it helped to usher in a new era of negotiation strategies, ones built on fairness and mutual understanding. The notion of a “win-win” outcome had become conventional wisdom in many parts of the world. With my colleagues and friends, I’d fanned across the globe teaching these methods and tools to help people work out their differences

introduction | xxi

without violence. Yet here in my own backyard, people were flying planes into buildings. Thousands of innocents went to work in the morning and never came back.

The ashen faces of New Yorkers streaming away from the flames haunted me. What were we negotiators doing wrong? What were we missing?

As the public grappled to make sense of this horrific bloodshed, I approached the milestone that would end my private mourning period. By marking the first-year anniversary of my mother’s death, I wanted to turn the page and move forward with my life. But that didn’t happen. Not two months after September 11, and the week before commemorating that first anniversary, my father very suddenly passed away.

When my father died, I felt profound grief. I also inherited a large responsibility. As the only lawyer in my family, I took over all legal matters. I dealt with a mountain of paperwork while continuing every day for another year to say the Jewish memorial prayers for a deceased parent.

The Negotiation Cyclone

Ironically, when I took a break from my professional world of engaging conflict to focus on my family, I was thrust into a negotiation cyclone of my own. In the days before my father passed away, it was with doctors, ICU nurses, my rabbi, my siblings. Then came the lawyers, insurance agents, tax accountants, art appraisers, and myriad other estate professionals.

One of the more memorable negotiations was with “Al the Garbage Guy,” who wanted thousands of dollars to take away our trash.

And then we faced the sea of Donation Ladies—some wanted

xxii | introduction

clothes sorted by color, some by size, others by season. Some wouldn’t take summer clothes at all. If there was a method to their madness, I never figured out what it was.

Friends watched me navigate this tender, endless process and would invariably ask me the same thing: “You know, Erica, you’re an international leader in negotiation. You’ve taught this stuff all over the world. After all of your training and the hundreds of workshops you’ve led... does any of this stuff really help?” I had to pause and think about this. I’d spent countless hours negotiating with doctors, lawyers, insurance agents, and hospital bureaucracies. I’d dealt with high-stakes, high-pressure situations, literally the stuff of life and death. I’d had incredibly raw conversations with my sisters. I’d negotiated from morning until night.

Had my immersion in negotiation skills prepared me to engage all of this successfully?

Yes and no.

On the one hand, of course, years of teaching best practices for managing conflict had helped me. I had tools for breaking down complex situations and problem solving. I knew how to consider different points of view. I could mediate among people holding strong emotions and the conviction that their perspective was the only correct one. I could generate a range of potential solutions to disputes that seemed to have no answer. And I had the communication skills to keep very challenging conversations moving forward when impasse loomed.

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