Roger Fisher


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Roger D. Fisher (May 28, 1922 – August 25, 2012) was Samuel Williston's Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and director of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Fisher specialized in negotiation and conflict management. He was the co-author (with William Ury) of the book Getting to Yes, about "interest-based" negotiation and numerous other publications. After serving as a weather reconnaissance pilot in WWII, Fisher worked on the Marshall Plan in Paris under W. Averell Harriman. 

After finishing his law degree at Harvard, he worked with the Washington, DC, law firm of Covington & Burling, arguing several cases before the US Supreme Court and advising on several international disputes. He returned to Harvard Law School and became a professor there in 1958. After losing many of his friends in the war and seeing so many costly disputes as a litigator, Fisher became intrigued with the art and science of managing our differences. 

Fisher and his students at the Harvard Negotiation Project (founded in 1979) began interviewing people who were known as skilled negotiators in order to understand what made them effective. And he started his study of conflict with the question, "What advice could I give to both parties in a dispute that would be helpful and lead to better outcomes?" This work led to the draft "International Mediation: A Working Guide" (April 1978) and, eventually, to the international best-seller, Getting to YES.

In the late 1960s, Fisher conceived of a court-style debate show that handled one contemporary policy issue each week. The Advocates premiered in October 1969 on WGBH-TV. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Roger Fisher and his colleagues taught courses on negotiation and conflict management at Harvard, but they also worked as advisors on real negotiations and conflicts of all types, worldwide; including peace processes, hostage crises, diplomatic negotiations, and commercial and legal negotiations and disputes. 

Fisher believed that keeping one foot in the real world and helping people with real disputes was critical to producing theories and tools useful in the real world. This tradition at the Harvard Negotiation Project produced a community of thinkers and practitioners that now spans the globe. Fisher continued to teach and write through his sixties, seventies, and eighties. 

Follow-up books expanded his thinking about dealing with relationship challenges (Getting Together with Scott Brown), preparing effectively (Getting Ready to Negotiate with Danny Ertel), and tools for dealing with bad actors and challenging parties (Beyond Machiavelli with Elizabeth Kopelman and Andrea Kupfer Schneider), galvanizing a group to do effective problem-solving (Getting It Done: How to Lead When You're Not in Charge with Alan Sharp and John Richardson), and the role of emotions in working relationships (Beyond Reason with Daniel Shapiro). 

In addition, colleagues at the Harvard Negotiation Project expanded the tradition Fisher founded and led. William Ury published Getting to Peace (1999), Getting Past No (1993), The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop (2000), and The Power of a Positive No (2007). Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen produced Difficult Conversations: How to Talk About What Matters Most (1999).

Fisher's 2005 work, Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate (with co-author Daniel Shapiro, a Harvard psychologist), identifies five "core concerns" that everyone cares about: autonomy, affiliation, appreciation, status, and role. The book shows how to use the core concerns to stimulate helpful emotions in negotiations, from personal to international. In Beyond Reason, Fisher documents many of his first-hand experiences negotiating around the world, from his involvement in negotiating the Iran hostage crisis to his advisory role in helping Jamil Mahuad, President of Ecuador (1998–2000), resolve a long-standing international border dispute.

Fisher received his bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1943 and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1948. He taught at Harvard from 1958 to 1992. In 1984, Fisher founded the Conflict Management Group (CMG) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. CMG specializes in facilitating negotiations in conflicts worldwide. CMG merged with the Mercy Corps humanitarian group in 2004. He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the International Editorial Board of the Cambridge Review of International Affairs.

Best author’s book


Getting to Yes