As a leader in business your ability to Influence and Negotiate both internally and externally is critical to your business success. These skills come natural to the very few but for most they are very difficult behaviors to implement. However like many soft skills, influence and negotiation takes time to master and requires continuous learning, implementation, and refinement by anyone who has customers to please.

There are countless books and sources on both topics in your favorite bookstore and while many of these sources are useful I have not come across principles as finely laid out as the Harvard Negotiation Project. The Harvard Negotiation Project discusses a few key principles centered on “Principled Negotiation,” — a practical, proven strategy best suited for on-going business relationships.

Principled Negotiation, a research project at Harvard University that works on negotiation problems and produces improved methods of negotiation and mediation.
It is part of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, a consortium of scholars and projects from Harvard, MIT, Simons, and Tufts working to improve the theory and practice of conflict resolution.

The problem of reaching agreement is that many negotiations bargain over positions. Each side takes a position, argues for their position, and makes concessions to reach a compromise. This method is called “Positional Bargaining”, but does not tend to produce very good agreements.

  • Arguing about positions induces parties to lock themselves into positions that may result into less than optimal agreements.
  • Arguing about positions can take longer than focusing on interests because both parties may try to make several offers and counter-offers before they reach an agreement that satisfies their interests.
  • Arguing about positions may hurt an ongoing relationship between parties.
    Positional bargaining is even more difficult where there are more than two parties.
  • Positional bargaining can be appropriate for short-term, one-time agreements. An example might be haggling over the price of a used table at a flea market. For longer-term relationships, positional bargaining can be destructive because of the short term focus.

Let’s look at “Principled Negotiation” where participants negotiate on the merits of the problem. Principled Negotiation places focus on the interests, needs and motivating factors of all parties to create a lasting win/win outcome. As such, it is a better approach than positional bargaining in most situations.

Part of the challenge is to get customer to move from Positional Bargaining to Principled Negotiation. You will be, in effect, “changing the game,” which requires specific understanding of four key principles of negotiation success:

  1. Separate the people from the problem
  2. Focus on interests, not position
  3. Invent options for mutual gain
  4. Use objective criteria


Case Study

1978 Camp David Egyptian-Israeli Negotiations

The Conflict

When the negotiations started, each side’s position were completely opposite each other. Egypt insisted on complete sovereignty over the Sinai Peninsula (which Israel had occupied in the 1967 6-day war), while Israel insisted on keeping control of at least some of the Sinai. Map after map was drawn, each with different dividing lines. None managed to meet the positions of both sides simultaneously.

The Solution

Looking to their interests instead of their positions made it possible to develop a solution. Israel’s interest lay in security; they did not want Egyptian tanks poised on their border ready to roll across at any time. Egypt’s interest lay in sovereignty; the Sinai had been part of Egypt since the time of the Pharaohs. By reframing the conflict in this way, a solution was reached. Egypt was given full sovereignty over the Sinai, but large portions of the area were demilitarized, which assured Israel’s security at the same time.

For more tactical applications of these two critical skills please look for The Principled Negotiation Method in the book “Getting to Yes”, by Roger Fisher and William Ury.


Does Your “TOOLBOX” Have These 2 Skills?


By Andre’ Harrell (AH2 & Beyond Consulting)

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