Getting Past No – book Interview

I recently interviewed Deb Ledvina, a Mn/DOT employee since 1992 and an attorney who was appointed by Commissioner Sorel to serve as Mn/DOT’s first ombudsman in September 2008. We talked about the second book in the Commissioner’s Reading Corner Book of the Month series, Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations by William Ury.

Tang: Why did you pick this book?   

Ledvina: I read this book almost 20 years ago. It was such a good book, it stuck in my mind. So when Commissioner and I were talking about books for Commissioner’s Reading Corner, this one come to my mind. We both read it and liked it. And the topic of the book is so relevant to the work I do at Mn/DOT, it’s just a perfect fit.

Tang: What do you like the best about the book?

Ledvina: The book filled a void in other leadership books by offering a practical, step-by-step approach to problem solving. It’s like a recipe book or checklist I can follow easily. It helps me navigate through a problem or an issue and find solutions with more confidence and ease. The ideas and steps in the book are really helpful in all aspects of our work and personal lives.

Tang: What are some ideas that you found helpful?

Ledvina: I am an action oriented person and tend to react a lot.

The first of five strategies in the joint problem-solving process is “Don’t react: go to the balcony.” It means to distance yourself from your natural impulses and emotions, to control your behavior and reaction. Buy yourself time to think. Regain your mental balance. Instead of getting mad or getting even, concentrate on getting what you want. Don’t make important decisions on the spot.

Going to the balcony gives a useful image for getting perspective on the situation: imagine yourself standing on a balcony looking down on your negotiation.

Tang: Can you name one new thing you learned from this book that’s empowering?

Ledvina: Forget the old saying: “My way or the highway” and don’t use power play.

In part II, chapter 5, it talks about using power to educate. The key mistake we make when we feel frustrated is to abandon the problem-solving game and turn to the power game instead.

Instead of seeking victory, aim for mutual satisfaction. Don’t use power to impose your terms on them. Use your power to educate the other side that the only way for them to win is for both of you to win together.

Tang: How has reading this book changed you in a positive way?

Ledvina: I know every disagreement can be worked out, almost anything can be resolved if we approach it from this joint problem-solving perspective. As I re-read this book, it really inspired me again and gave me more energy to do my job.

Tang: Please share a few passages from the book that left a big impression on you.

Ledvina: Negotiation is joint problem-solving. “It is soft on the people, hard on the problem. Instead of attacking each other, you jointly attack the problem. Instead of glowering across the table, you sit next to each other facing your common problem. In short, you turn fact-to-face confrontation into side-by-side problem-solving.” – Overview on p. 5

“Breakthrough negotiation is the opposite of imposing your position on the other side. Rather than pounding in a new idea from the outside, you encourage them to reach for it from within. Rather than telling them what to do, you let them figure it out. Rather than pressuring them to change their mind, you create an environment in which they can learn. Only they can break through their own resistance, your job is to help them. ” – Overview on p. 11

Tang: Tell us a little bit about your reading habits.

Ledvina: In recent years, I listen to more books on the tape in my car than read print books, though I still read every night. I found I am an auditory/verbal learner. I process information better by listening.
Mostly I read self-help books, because I want to be the best person I can be and do the best I can do. 

Related articles:

Interview with Mn/DOT Commissioner Tom Sorel