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Harvard concept

Most people only know two negotiation techniques:

  • Soft negotiation technique: Personal conflicts should be avoided and therefore concessions are made in order to reach an agreement. A peaceful solution is sought.
  • Hard negotiation technique: Every negotiation represents a battle of will: "You want to win". This is achieved by taking the more extreme position and holding out for as long as possible.

Other standard negotiating strategies range from hard to soft. Compromises are sought in order to achieve what is desired and not to destroy relationships with the opposite.

The Harvard concept now describes a universally applicable negotiating maxim that elevates factual negotiation (so-called "principled negotiation") to the maxim. This method is neither hard nor soft, but hard and soft. The issues at issue are to be decided according to their significance and their content: The method of factual negotiation is tough on the matter, but soft towards people.

This concept was developed in the Harvard Negotiation Project, an interdisciplinary research project at Harvard Law School.


The problem with negotiations is that there is often haggling (e.g. in the market between the seller and the buyer). In doing so, positions are taken and the basic criteria of a smart, efficient and amicable agreement are not met.

Position wrangling, however, provokes unwise agreements:

  • Negotiators who haggle over positions often catch themselves in that position. The more you try to convince the other side that you can't change your starting position, the more difficult it becomes to do so after all.
  • Your ego identifies with this position and you want to save face.
  • If an agreement is reached, it is often less satisfactory for both parties than it would actually have been possible.

Haggling over positions is also inefficient:

  • As soon as positions are haggled, clarification is postponed.
  • Both parties stubbornly stick to their extreme position and only make small concessions; thus an agreement is delayed.

But being nice is not a solution either:

  • Hard arguments come at a high price. That is why some parties try to avoid this through a more friendly negotiating style.
  • Often times, results are obtained quickly and effectively, but they are not always sensible.
  • There is also the risk of becoming easy prey for those who are hard-fought for their positions.

An alternative to haggling over positions is factual negotiation according to the Harvard concept. This negotiation technique is essentially based on four basic aspects:

  • People:Treat people and problems separately!
  • Interests:Do not focus on positions, but on interests!
  • Possibilities:Various options before making a decisiondevelop!
  • Criteria:Build the result on objective decision-making principles!

These four basic principles are intended to create a win-win situation. The solution should be satisfactory for all parties and the good relationships should be maintained.

1st principle: treat people and problems separately

Negotiators are first and foremost people. In arguments it is easy to forget that the other person is also guided by feelings and is not simply a robot without human feelings. This human aspect can be useful when negotiating, e.g. by making long-term contacts easier. But they can also be disturbing, especially when prejudices such as annoyance, frustration, etc. are provoked on the other side and these then trigger negative counter-reactions through the expressions of prejudices.

Every negotiating partner has two basic interests:

  • the subject of the negotiations,
  • the personal relationships.

Each negotiating partner looks for agreements that satisfy his objective interests - for this reason he negotiates. In addition, he has an interest in his relationship with the other side. In order to prevent the personal relationship between the parties from being confused with factual issues, it can therefore be advantageous to separate personal relationships from the factual issue.

It is therefore essential that any negotiation be conducted in such a way that future relationships and negotiations are encouraged, not impaired.


Maintaining relationships with long-term customers, business partners, professional colleagues, etc. is far more important than the result of any single negotiation!

Personal relationships easily mix with problems at hand. During negotiations, it is therefore easy for personal relationships to be mixed up with factual disputes. Another reason for mix-ups is that people usually tend to seldom automatically accept statements from this person in relation to a certain - individually defined - group of people in the way the person meant them. Even more disastrous with "such" mixtures is when, out of pure struggle for a stronger will, an increasingly extreme position is taken, only to show the other side that one has a stronger will.

However, dealing with problems and maintaining good relationships at the same time does not have to be fraught with conflict. However, both sides must treat both separately from one another and according to the point of view of the respective legitimacy in order to be able to deal with the "human problem". The "human problem" occurs in particular with the following factors:

  • Imaginations,
  • Emotions,
  • Communication.


In the event of a conflict, one often tries to examine the subject in dispute through “objective realities”. If a “truth” is then discovered, this is an additional argument - sometimes a good one, sometimes a less good one - to handle the case. However, no matter how clear the facts are, they cannot necessarily contribute to a solution, as the conflict lies in people's minds. As useful as the consideration of “objective realities” may be, ultimately the thoughts and fears of the other side - no matter how unfounded - must be taken into account, since only the perspective of both parties opens the way to a solution.

In this respect, the following approaches exist:

Put yourself in the shoes of the negotiating partner!

People have the peculiarity of only seeing what they want to see and they ignore what could call into question their personal ideas. One of the most important skills in negotiating is therefore to see a situation from the other side. A better understanding of the other side can limit the area of ​​conflict. This also helps you to re-clarify your own interests.

Never infer the intentions of others from your own fears!

People tend to assume that the other side always does what they fear. However, suspicion often inevitably arises from one's own ideas. This often prevents new ideas submitted by the other side from being weighed or subtle changes in position being recognized.

Don't blame the other side for your own problems!

It is easy to be seduced into blaming the other side for your own problems. However, a censure is mostly unproductive, even if it is justified. The other side defends itself of course against the allegations and will contradict and possibly even start a counterattack. By assigning blame, the human and factual sides of the matter are mixed up!

Talk about the ideas of both sides!

Often one neglects the interests of the other contracting party as "insignificant" in negotiations because one believes that they do not stand in the way of an agreement. However, the explicit and convincing articulation of what the other side would like to hear or say can have a particularly good effect on negotiations.

Change misconceptions through unexpected behavior!

If a contractual partner behaves differently than expected by the other side, it is forced to get a new picture of the partner. In particular, an unexpected accommodation in a controversial matter can create new trust!

Let the other side participate in the result!

If the other side is presented with a fait accompli, the chances of success are probably rather slim. That is why you should involve the other side in finding a solution at an early stage and seek their advice and opinion. In addition to the factual advantages, the feeling of being involved in the decision-making process is probably the only important factor when deciding whether the negotiating partner will accept a proposal.

Always keep the face of the other side!

Negotiating partners often insist on their positions not because the counter-proposal is unacceptable, but because they do not want to back down to the other side. Such a need to “save face” must not be ignored or even laughed at. This expresses the need to reconcile the negotiating point of view with the principles that have hitherto been defended in words and deeds. In this respect, it has to be examined, for example, whether the situation can be reformulated and conceptualized in such a way that it looks like a fair result, so an agreement can still be reached.


Feelings are sometimes more important than the conversation, especially in tough negotiations. Often the parties only fight each other instead of working on a cooperative solution. Emotions often lead negotiations to a dead end. It can therefore be useful to talk about your own emotions or those of the other side:

  • Why am i upset?
  • Why is it the other side?

If one's own feelings or those of the other side become the subject of discussion, this not only underlines the seriousness of the situation, but the negotiations also become less reactive, but rather active.

Once the parties have talked the unspoken emotions off their minds, they will much rather devote themselves to the problems themselves. In this respect, the following approaches are recommended:

  • Allow the other side to let off steam: If a negotiating partner has to let off steam - you should let him. Mental relief is achieved by articulating one's grief. The best strategy is to listen quietly and let the negotiating partner unload their grief. The opposite side can only be interrupted if there are direct failures.
  • Use symbolic gestures: Sometimes a simple gesture is enough - especially in private life - to relieve emotions and trigger positive emotions on the other side.This can be a sign of sympathy, an expression of regret, a hug, etc., The - honestly - apology remains the same probably the most effective method to resolve a tense situation.


Negotiating is impossible without communication. However, communication is never easy; In particular, there are three major communication problems that must be taken into account:

  • The negotiating partners do not speak to each other, or at least not in a way that they understand each other.
  • The partners do not listen carefully.
  • Misunderstandings arise.

To avoid this, there are the following possible solutions:

Listen carefully and provide feedback about what has been said!

Only when you really listen to each other can you recognize and understand the ideas of the other side. It can also benefit the explanations of the other side if one is attentive, e.g. by briefly asking: "Did I understand you correctly, you mean ...". In this way, the other side recognizes that they are not wasting their time here, but that the other party is carefully following and understanding their position.


However, understanding does not mean agreeing! You can fully understand the other side and yet have a completely different opinion.

Speak in such a way that you can also be understood!

It's not about convincing third parties. The only person who needs to be convinced is the negotiating partner, who is sitting at the table with you. You should also turn to them!

Talk about yourself, not the other side!

Often one tries to explain the intentions and motives of the other side, only to discard them in the end. It is more useful, however, to describe a problem in terms of its repercussions on yourself. This has the advantage that if I only talk about my emotional state, nobody can criticize it. If, on the other hand, you make an assertion that is perceived as untrue on the other side, the other side gets angry about it or simply ignores the remark and the underlying intention is not taken into account.

Always speak with a specific intention!

Some thoughts are better left unsaid - especially when there is anger and discomfort. It is also important to ensure that individual points of the contract have already been negotiated so that a “barrel is not opened again”. Before pronouncing a binding sentence, you should make it clear that

  • what you actually want to communicate and
  • for what purpose the information is used.

Thinking ahead

As a rule, the techniques mentioned above help in dealing with ideas, emotions and communication. It would be even better, however, to deal with the "human problem" before it really becomes a problem. Solutions for this are:

Get to know the other side personally!

By building up a personal and stable relationship with the other side and structuring the negotiations in such a way that factual issues are coupled with the human relationship, one can avoid mixing up with factual disputes.

Always approach the problem - and not the people!

For a successful negotiation it is useful when both sides see themselves as partners who work side by side with all their might to find fair, mutually beneficial agreements.

2. Principle: Focus on interests, not positions

In order to get an idea of ​​your own interests as well as those of the other side, you should answer the following questions:

  • Why?
    • Don't just look at the problem from your side, but also from the other side.
    • If you are unsure about the interests of the other side, ask there directly!
  • Why not?
    • Realize that both sides have diverse interests. The interests of the other side need not necessarily be opposed to you.

Keep in mind that the basic human needs are fundamental, but still easy to overlook, e.g .:

  • Security,
  • Economic livelihood,
  • Sense of belonging,
  • Recognition,
  • Self-determination.

If you're discussing interests with the other party, you should

  • make your own interests clear,
  • recognize the interests of others as part of the problem,
  • first present the problem, then answer,
  • look ahead, not backwards,
  • be determined but flexible,
  • be tough on the matter, but be gentle with the people involved.

3rd principle: Developing decision-making options for mutual benefit

There are four main barriers to developing a variety of choices:

  • Hasty judgment,
  • Search for "the" right solution ",
  • The assumption that the "cake" is limited
  • The idea that others should solve their problems themselves.

Rash judgment

A hasty judgment exists if only one solution to a problem is considered from the outset.

The problem with this is that options and alternative solutions are nipped in the bud through critical questioning, which limits the diversity of decision-making options. Ideas are rejected as unsuitable at the beginning.

The solution is to separate the process of finding options from assessing those options. The best way to do this is by brainstorming, either with your own people or directly with the other side. A separation can be made between the act of developing options and the process of deciding between these options.

Search for "the" right solution "

When looking for “the” correct solution, an attempt is made to focus on the “only true” solution, which should lie between the two positions.

This solves this problem. that initially the search is not for “the” correct solution, but rather the number of options should be increased.The number of possible agreements can also be increased by considering not only the “harder” options (comprehensive, final or unconditional agreement) but also “softer” options (partial, principle or conditional agreement).

Likewise, the scope of an agreement can be changed by either reducing it as a partial solution into more manageable units or by increasing the overall subject matter with additional incentives, as "saccharification".

Assumption that the "cake" is limited

Here the negotiating partners assume that only an "either-or" solution is possible:

"Either I get the question or you get it!"

The solution to this dilemma is not to limit oneself to an “either / or” solution, but to look out for advantages for all sides. To do this, the common interests of the negotiating parties must first be determined, which - albeit often hidden - are present in almost every negotiation. The common interests found should then be concretized and defined as common goals; this makes the negotiations smoother and friendlier.


There are two people in one room. One wants to open the window, the other wants to keep it closed.

To solve this problem, the interests of both parties must be addressed. One says that he needs fresh air, the other is bothered by the street noise.

The solution is to briefly open the window to let in fresh air and then close it again!

Another possibility is to present the negotiating partner with several, for himself acceptable choices, from which he can choose the option he prefers.


The best way to share a cake is for one person to cut the cake and then the other person to choose their piece.

Idea that the others should solve their problems themselves

A problem regularly arises when the negotiating partners only deal with their own immediate interests.

Instead, it is more expedient if both parties develop proposals that also take into account the interests of the other party and thereby facilitate the decision.

Your own success in a negotiation consists in the fact that the negotiating partner makes decisions in my favor; therefore it is important to make this decision as easy as possible for him. The easiest way to do this is to put yourself in the position of the other person and try to find out which interests exist, which conditions must be met and which solutions are perceived as fair.

Based on these findings, various possible solutions can be proposed to the negotiating partner.


Warnings and threats of possible consequences in the event of rejection are out of place, positive offers are much more effective!

4. Principle: Build the result on objective decision-making principles

The fourth and at the same time last principle of the Harvard concept aims to show the parties how to achieve negotiation results that are independent of their will. The goal is to produce results that are both parties' will.

The reason for this is simply the profitability of a negotiation. Negotiations will hardly be effective or amicable if the parties impose their will on one another. The consequences are unreasonable agreements and high costs, because when negotiating positions, the negotiating partners spend a lot of time defending themselves and attacking the other side.

Development of objective criteria

The solution is to get away from subjective principles and negotiate on a neutral basis, on a basis of objective criteria that suit both sides.


"A certain standard must be attached to the negotiation."

It is important that the criteria are fair, effective and practicable, regardless of mutual will. In any case, it is advantageous if the objective criteria are legally legitimized and bring a scientific factuality of the problem to bear so that one can arrive at a reasonable result, e.g .:

  • Market value,
  • previous comparative cases,
  • Expert opinions,
  • Costs,
  • Equal treatment,
  • Tradition.

In order for results to be achieved that are independent of the will of those involved, the objective criteria just explained can be used both for the content and for the procedure for coordinating the conflicting interests.

Negotiate using objective criteria

Factual negotiation has three basic elements:

  • Every dispute must be transformed into a common search for objective criteria.
  • The reasoning should remain reasonable, especially open to arguments based on insightful criteria. Just as the point of the negotiation should not be decided on the basis of a mere struggle of wills, the question of the criteria used must not depend solely on the arbitrariness of one or the other side. If the parties still cannot agree on a common criterion, an independent and fair third person is asked for advice on which criterion should be used for the settlement.
  • One should never give in to any kind of pressure, so only bend to meaningful principles. Pressure can take many forms. At this moment, however, you should continue to ask the other side to argue sensibly, develop new objective criteria yourself and point out that you want to continue negotiating on their basis.

Only if the criterion is usable can an agreement be reached without having submitted to an arbitrary position. However, if the opposite side still does not move from its position, there are only two variants:

  • Either you accept the unjustified position.
  • One turns to the best possible alternative.

Yes but…

... what happens when the other side is stronger?

When power is on the other side, no negotiating technique can guarantee success (in every negotiation there are realities that simply cannot be changed). If the other side is much stronger, a clever way of negotiating can achieve two goals at best:

  • Protection against an unwanted agreement!
  • Get the best out of the bad starting position!

In this respect, the setting of a limit is fundamentally to be rejected. Setting a limit for yourself makes it easier to withstand the pressure and temptation of the moment, but such a limit also comes at a high price. It also limits the ability to benefit from what one learns only during the negotiation; a limit is by definition an immovable position.

The better solution is to be clear about the “best alternative”. The reason for negotiating something is principally because something better comes out than not negotiating.

The “Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement” (“BATNA” - “Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement”) is achieved by comparing each proposal with the best alternative and seeing what is more in line with interests, instead of excluding any solution below the limit serves. In this way, you may still be able to conclude a contract (“ZOPA” - “Zone Of Possible Agreement”).

... if the other party does not play along?

If the other party is haggling over positions, the strategy of negotiation judo can be used.

This strategy focuses on the actions of the other side: it counteracts the basic movements of haggling over positions by drawing attention to the factual level. This is to avoid a spiral of action and reaction.

Negotiating Judo tactics are:

Do not attack the position of the opposing party, but take a look behind it!

The opposing position should be viewed as a possible option, to what extent this position serves the interests of both sides.

Ask questions and use the power of silence!

Statements provoke resistance, while questions provoke problem-solving suggestions. In addition, questions do not provide an opportunity for refusal or a target for attack.

Silence is one of the best weapons! Silence often gives the other party the impression that everything is stuck and one feels somehow pushed to overcome this situation by answering the question or making another suggestion.


If the negotiation judo does not work, you should bring in a third person Ø Ø This third person should have practice in redirecting the discussion to interests, options and criteria.


  • Fischer / Ury / Patton, The Harvard Concept
  • Fisher / Shapiro, Beyond Reason - Using Emotions as You Negotiate
  • Ury, Getting Past No - Negotiating In Difficult Situations