Getting to Yes: How to Negotiate Using the Harvard Principle

Madeleine Gritzbach, Monday 22 October 2018 | Reading time: 4 min.

Soft skills such as negotiation skills play a major role in project management. The Harvard principle of partnership-based negotiation will help you learn to negotiate in a fair way.

Not everyone is born with great negotiation skills, but everyone can learn to negotiate correctly and fairly. The so-called "Harvard principle" can help you overcome conflicts of interest with your negotiating partner and come to a solution with mutual benefits. In this blog post we present the basics of this conflict management method and explain how to achieve a "win-win situation". 

Introduction to the Harvard Concept 

The Harvard principle is considered one of the most effective negotiation techniques worldwide and was developed more than 20 years ago at Harvard University by Professors Roger Fisher and William Ury. 

The concept aims at a "win-win situation" in which the negotiating partners see their counterparts as partners instead of opponents. This creates a constructive and partnership-like relationship between the negotiating partners. On the basis of this relationship, problems with differing opinions can be overcome and the partners can reach a peaceful agreement. 

A solution reached with the Harvard principle usually has the best possible outcome for both parties and doesn’t impair their personal relationship. 

Harvard Principles of Negotiation 

The basic prerequisite for using the Harvard method is that both parties are familiar with the concept and have agreed to use the method! To successfully implement the Harvard method, you should also consider the following conditions: 

Discuss the subject matter

Treat your negotiating partner with respect and detach your relationship from the actual topic of discussion. This will enable you to consider the factual problem independently of all personal aspects. Ideally, both parties concentrate on the interests of all involved. 

Focus on the interests

Negotiations often turn into fights over who is right or wrong. The problem with this kind of negotiation is that no win-win situation can arise, but a winner and a loser emerge from the negotiation. The Harvard principle aims at the contrary. 

In order to achieve fair results, both parties should therefore try to forget their own positions and focus solely on interests. Encourage your negotiating partner to reveal their own interests. While the respective positions are often completely different, the interests often point in the same direction. Think about your own interests in advance and write them down in a list in preparation to the negotiation. 

Develop alternatives

Don't look for the "perfect" solution, because it usually doesn't exist but don’t look for an “either-or" solution either. This allows you to discover new options and develop alternative solutions. To develop further options, a mind map can be very helpful, or you can use the catchball method to further develop alternative solutions together. 

Objectice decision criteria

Once you have developed potential solutions with your negotiation partner, the actual decision-making process begins. Define objective decision criteria together and evaluate all possible results accordingly. Based on this evaluation you should be able to make a decision which unites all interests.  


The Harvard method is based on communication and fair treatment. Its greatest advantage is a high acceptance of the negotiation results. It also has a positive effect on the speed of implementation of those results. An additional advantage is the strengthened personal relationship between the negotiating parties, which ideally forms the basis for future cooperation. 

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