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The Win-Win Solution: Guaranteeing Fair Shares to Everybody

Review by:
The Aternative Newsletter Editor,
Robert Kirkman Collins
Published by:

(W.W. Norton, New York, 1999; ISBN 0-393-32081-2 177 pp.)

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What are negotiators to do with those nasty little issues that are simply not susceptible to the creative
possibilities of “Getting to Yes” ? While Fisher and Ury have reoriented us all to more creative
approaches to negotiation, The Win-Win Solution: Guaranteeing Fair Shares to Everybody addresses
the annoying reality that in many disputes there remain linear issues in which every gain on one side
appears to require an equal and opposite loss to the other.

The Win-Win Solution proposes three basic approaches to resolving these dilemmas. It outlines
dealing with such win/lose scenarios fairly through: a “balanced” alternation of choices on an item-by-item basis (with variants that adjust for the advantage in making the first selection); a “divide-and-choose” approach for negotiating packages of benefits (modeled on the classic sibling scenario
of “you cut the cake, and I’ll choose the piece”, with tips for extending this technique to multi-party
negotiations); and, the authors’ major proposal (termed an “adjusted winner” approach) that utilizes
a point-designation system designed to maximize satisfaction for each party while balancing the
benefits to both.

The book does a good job explaining the advantages and pitfalls to participants of utilizing
“insincere” but strategic behaviors under each approach, and makes an important contribution in
expanding options for negotiating issues that would appear to otherwise be limited to straight
win/lose haggling. However, the book is not without its flaws, such as the bizarre identification as
“perhaps the most common way” for a divorcing couple to resolve the issues of their divorce tossing
a coin and taking turns choosing either ownership of their house, their pensions, their investment
portfolio… or custody of their child (!). While the authors (professors of Politics and Mathematics,
respectively) are correct that separating couples do use this approach for dividing lamps, rugs and
china; there is much reason to doubt — and even reason to pray — that it has never been standard
procedure to trade assets for children after a coin toss. In addition, the chapters hypothetically
applying the “adjusted winner” technique to disputes such as the Camp David negotiations and the
divorces of Charles and Diana (and Donald and Ivana Trump) introduce a People Magazine element
that adds little to the usefulness of the concept.

The book was designed as practical guide for the lay negotiator rather than as a work with scholarly
ambitions, and it works well as a tool for principals, mediators or negotiators for expanding their
procedural options in dealing with issues that are not susceptible to a classic win/win creation of
value. It could also certainly be of value as a supplemental text (ideally as a companion to Getting
to Yes) in an introductory course on negotiation or mediation.


Robert Kirkman Collins

Robert Kirkman Collins, J.D., has been cited by Cardozo Law School as being “among the pioneers of divorce mediation”. A co-founder of The New York Mediation Group, Bob is an attorney with an independent practice in divorce mediation and matrimonial law in Manhattan, with over twenty years of experience as… MORE >

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