By Published On: June 19, 20220 Comments

The dispute resolution methods used by Conflict Management and the Harvard Negotiation Project were developed by Roger Fisher and his colleagues over the course of 30 years of research and practice. “Principled” does not mean “ethical,” though it surely is. Rather, it embodies a series of principles developed at Harvard and perfected in practice by attorneys, diplomats, executives, community leaders, and others in many countries.

These principles are detailed in Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Mr. Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. They include:

1. Explore Interests, Not Positions.

Positional bargaining, in which each side comes to the table with a list of demands, is likely to be ineffective and costly. Its failures in the labor/management and diplomatic contexts are manifold. It often produces unyielding attitudes and endless haggling. Problem-solving negotiation teaches the parties instead to focus on their underlying needs and interests. This can lead the parties to find common ground and creative ways to resolve a dispute.

2. Develop Options for Joint Gain.

Few traditional negotiations result in optimal solutions because parties rarely explore a broad range of potential options. Instead of jointly inventing many possible solutions, the parties limit their thinking by focusing on only one or two options. Creative thinking expands the range of possible options and promotes better solutions. Exploring options also promotes a better working relationship.

3. Use Objective Criteria and Standards.

Negotiation does not have to mean giving in, or bowing to the will of another party. Insisting on the use of objective standards, precedents, law, or principles is a means both to persuade the other side that an agreement is fair and to protect your side from being coerced. Standards of legitimacy also make it easier to explain an agreement to one’s constituents.

4. Assess the Alternatives to a Negotiated Agreement.

Each party should understand what it will do if no agreement is reached at the negotiating table. In any negotiation, parties face a choice between accepting a proposal or opting for a walk-away alternative. A negotiator should never agree to a proposal that is worse than his or her BATNA, or Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. By assessing and improving one’s BATNA, one will gain flexibility in the negotiations.

5. Separate the People from the Problem.

Every negotiation has two basic components: people and problems. Dealing with each effectively requires two important steps. First, separate the people issues (e.g. emotions, communication, reliability) from the substantive issues (e.g. terms, dates, figures). Second, deal with each set of issues on its own merits, do not make substantive concessions in the hope of “improving” relations.

6. Talk First, Decide Later.

Too often, parties decide on a solution in advance of the negotiations and then try to impose that solution on the other side. When each party decides what should be done before talking, the negotiation ends up as a battle of positions. Negotiators tend to produce better agreements if they first talk to the other parties to explore possible solutions before making decisions. Commitments should come at the end of the process, not at the beginning.

7. Try to Understand Each Other’s Perceptions.

Often, parties make demands to which the other party could never agree. Each party should put itself in the shoes of the other, to understand that party’s constraints and perceptions of the situation. Understanding the other side’s perceptions will improve communication and enable a party to re-frame its proposals in way that makes it easier for the other side to say “yes.”

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