What is the Harvard Method of ‘Principled Negotiation' ?

 Win-win solutions get you thinking beyond 'dividing the pie'

Win-win solutions get you thinking beyond 'dividing the pie'


What is ‘Principled Negotiation’?

‘Principled Negotiation’ is based on the seminal book Getting to Yes:  Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, authored by the late Roger Fischer and William Ury, lawyers and professors at Harvard. The theory was first applied at Camp David to broker an agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1978. The theory of “principled negotiation” promotes the separation of personal issues from substantive issues, using independent standards of fairness, and focusing on interests, not positions. This enables parties to focus on inventing creative options for mutual gain and considering alternatives if an agreement cannot be reached. The aim is to understand multi-party points of view while preserving long-term business relationships.

How does Principled Negotiation differ from traditional negotiation?

Most negotiations start with opposing positions that can quickly lead to personal conflict and stalemate. If the principal aim is to collaborate on finding solutions to maximize both sides, the likelihood of reaching a mutually acceptable solution is greater. A win-win outcome will usually save considerable time, effort, money and personal angst.  More importantly, this approach can save business and personal relationships and has proven its efficiency in general application. It is a methodical and thoughtful process that can be applied to any situation in which some form of agreement is needed.

Isn’t it only good for sales or lawyers?

Reaching agreement with others is a necessary part of every transaction in your professional and personal relationships.  The more you practice negotiation, the more comfortable and confident one becomes in dealing with conflict and getting to the heart of issues.  Principled negotiation is most obviously relevant for sales; however, developing skills in negotiation is also invaluable for public sector employees who need to build consensus for new policies, support personnel to get buy-in of internal initiatives, employees and managers for employment contracts, and other everyday situations.  

How is the Harvard Method of Principled Negotiation taught?

The most effective way of learning and retaining a new skill is through practice. Workshop participants are introduced to the key points behind principled negotiation. We then illustrate respective learning points through interactive simulations and role plays that are used at the Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School. The exercises get progressively more complex as participants grasp the principles.  Principle negotiation also encourages an appreciation of not only others’ points of view, but also forces one to question how your own motivation and behavior may affect the negotiation process.

The approach offers many advantages including improved communications, quicker settlement of disputes, more creative outcomes that meet multi-party interests, and increased confidence in identifying and managing conflict. Participants will be able to prepare and devise strategies to better their outcomes before heading into a negotiation.

Fischer, Roger and William Ury. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. 2nd ed. by Bruce Patton. New York: Penguin Books, 1991