Roger Fisher died this weekend, at the age of 90. Somehow, the fact he was 90 stunned me almost as much as his death. When I met him in 1993, he was like a force of nature: a man whose corporate memory included, among other things, negotiating the Camp David Accord, a man who left his imprint on millions around the world, a man who changed my life.
Roger Fisher developed the Program on Negotiations at Harvard; he wrote a book called Getting to Yes that transformed negotiations from adversarial slugfests to collaborative, interest-based problem-solving. I studied Negotiations under his tutelage in 1993 at Harvard and was transformed. I left Harvard feeling like Ghandi, believing I could do anything. I gave up the adversarial world of lawyers to become a mediator, facilitator, and negotiator. I completed a doctorate in conflict resolution, and taught Negotiations and Mediation at Queens University that year, and privately thereafter. Before I left my legal career altogether to take up writing and real estate, I trained Serbian negotiators for the UN.
In my training, I always used a tape of Roger Fisher stickhandling a conflict that was just as fresh in 2009 as it had been 25 years earlier, although at times it was comical to hear two simultaneous translator’s voices (both Serbian women) emerging from Roger’s mouth.
Roger was very tall, and a bit gangly, warm and always smiling. He was instantly likeable and possessed that rarest gift: uncommon sense.
To this day, when I find myself in conflict, I harken back to his advice: “be hard on a problem, soft on the people. We can disagree, without being disagreeable.” And more often these days, “be the kind of person that others want to do business with. Always be trustworthy.”
May you rest in peace, Roger, as you lived in peace. Heaven will be a better place with you there.