Negotiations, The Harvard Method

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Each negotiation has its particularities, people and interests evolved can be different, context can be different or even the place in space and time can be different, which makes, each negotiation, a unique event. But, at the same time, we have some basic elements that don't change.

Though, in a first approach, trying to generalize the process of negotiation may be temerity, however to have a methodology, or more, to develop the process it is not only healthy but also essential.

There are several methods to conduct a negotiation, one of them is the Harvard Method, which is described on the book "Getting a Yes" from Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton.

Another perspective is from Richard Shell, from Wharton School, and that can be read on the book "Bargaining for advantage". Also, an interesting reading is the book "Difficult Conversations" from Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen, which focus is on human behavior, and as negotiations are developed by people, it is important to understand and study their behavior.

This article has the focus on the Harvard Method and uses as base of knowledge the book "Getting a Yes", MIT Negotiations Course and the Harvard Negotiation Project.

The method is framed on four basic aspects: people, interests, options and standards (objective criteria); and has the premise that the negotiation should be conducted based on principles, this means that each negotiator should focus on objective criteria and legitimacy.

There are two vision of negotiation, a win-win approach and the win-lose approach. The win-lose approach is related with people that only believe on the perspective of zero-sum based games. If one wins the other part must lose something. But actually if parties have the focus on mutual interests and negotiate using standards and principles, it has a good chance to reach a satisfying and interesting solution for both parties.

With the current competitive spirit of businesses and with the last news about current disasters of the enterprise environment and their related issues about Ethics and Honesty, it is difficult to accept the previous paragraph, but it is truly possible to achieve it.

Experimented negotiators know that, when one of the parties leave the negotiation in disadvantage, the repercussion of that deal can have a multiplier effect, provoke damage to the business, region, or country in future negotiation or even out of them, and can evolve revenge, resentment or something like accounts' adjust.

So, it is a good policy, not only focusing on short-term, to take care that all parties shall be attended, the best possible, on their interests.

Before start the negotiation, some work must be done to prepare the process. A list of option should already be made, analyze yours and other part's interests, align both interests, invent option for mutual gain, be prepared to avoid bargain positioning and to return to principles and objective criteria.

When evaluating options, observe the quality of information, don't super-estimate choices, have broad knowledge of the context and market, avoid emotional or subjective evaluations.

Now, returning to people, interests, options and standards (objective criteria).

Separate people from problems. Be aware that the valuable incentives may diverge from one party to another, that what is fair allows different interpretations; judgments of fairness are biased in an egocentric and self-serving manner.

Develop mutual understanding, trust and respect, and sustain the negotiation within the reason field. Avoid that emotions may generate noise and that arguments diverge to the personal side. Have strategies to deal with emotions.

Avoid fixed positioning, if comes up some divergence, try to revise opinions, share information, clarify some points by understanding the other party making questions or asking help, and always keep the balance of reason and emotion and seek to control the negotiation within objective criteria and principles.

Emotionally intelligent negotiators plan for people issues, analyze emotional traps, have strategies to deal with emotions, have active listening, empathic actions, develop perspective analysis and perspective testing procedures.

Interests is what we want achieve with the negotiation. Positioning is what you decided according to the interests. For each interest we have different positioning. As we negotiate to attend interests, and as negotiation - one of its definitions - is the use of power, time and information, though, it should be optimized at the maximum the process of negotiation.

To accomplish it, we need to be precise on the negotiable issues, must recognize the interests of the other party and demonstrate it, maintain the process strictly in objective criteria, standards and principles, however your should be affable, polite, with a constructive spirit and a facilitator but, at the same time, inflexible with principles and objectivity.

In the case of impediments to develop further the negotiation, try to identify the reasons, suggest alternatives by asking "why not", discuss other options with a "if we", try to evolve the other party with some question like: "why should we do that way?".

Before starting the negotiation, as we already said, some options (alternatives) should already been studied. All evolved must be attended in their interests, or at least tried to. The objective is to have a balanced negotiation and, at the end, have all parties satisfied at the most, and no one with hard feelings or a feeling of frustration.

What makes harder the search of options with mutual gain is the vision of a unique answer to the problem, or a premature judgment, or to keep the focus on the interests of only on party, or still believe in zero-sum games when someone wins and someone loses.
The unique solution tends the negotiation to the impasse because the absence of options. With the premature judgment, alternatives are eliminated without the correct evaluation. Observing only the own interests will provoke difficulties and delays on the process. The zero sum games perspective diverge from the vision of mutual benefits.

Standards (Objective Criteria):
The definition of objective criteria is fundamental to be able to use the Harvard Method, because the method is based on principles, clear values and impartiality. So, if that is not followed the efficiency and efficacy will be harmed, as well the possibility of an efficient, friendly and wise agreement with future and interesting possibilities of unfolding in new ones.

One of the most common feelings is the sensation that what is on the table is not fair. So, all issues must be clear and don't have any doubts. The best is to have transparency, impartiality and that the standards are accepted by all, that they are easily understood and applicable.

When defining them, it is interesting to have in mind the balance of mutual interests and impartiality, to be open to different forms and perspectives, to not give up under pressure, when the matter is about principles and objective criteria.

If the criteria are objective, clear and impartial, the negotiation is facilitated, the stress is reduced, the relationship is preserved and it will be opened to possibility of new businesses in the future.

Final considerations:
None method is perfect or unique to accomplish all necessities or variances of negotiations, and principally when we deal with the human being.

Because of that, we mentioned, at the beginning, other possibilities and books, and tools to improve negotiations skills. There are research and methods to deal with negotiators profiles as the conflict avoider, the facilitator, the competitor, the collaborator, and so on.

It is also important to know a little more about the human behavior. To understand emotions, empathy, synergy, subjectivity, conflict resolutions, to avoid communication noise, to maintain the balance between reason and emotion is also fundamental to develop negotiation skills.

Other aspects are interesting to study, like to define the BATNA, Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, to know the gap between the best and the worst agreement, to know when to leave, pause or stop a negotiation, to ask to change the negotiators, if possible, to understand the possibility of no disclosure interests, to understand the possible existence of an hidden power or stakeholder, and so on.

But these aspects are for future articles.

Mario luis Tavares Ferreira is a seasoned senior manager, entrepreneur, with a broad technical background, developed two high tech start-ups, developed business in half dozen countries, has active participation on diverse Linkedin groups and is developing a non-profit project to leverage SMB and Start-up development. For more information please visit my website at

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