Harvard Negotiation Method

Negotiate successfully internationally

Share with others

Martina Jeric-Ruzovits

Martina Jeric-Ruzovits



  • What is the Harvard Negotiation Method?
  • The 6 phases of negotiation
  • The 4 principles of the Harvard Negotiation Method
  • Helpful phrases for a negotiation in English
  • Tips for business travellers – etiquette tips for other countries to avoid blunders
  • 7 Business Etiquette Tips for Austria

The “Harvard Concept” describes a universally applicable negotiation method that follows the maxim of reaching agreements amicably without being defeated.

We negotiate every day in different situations, whether in job interviews, team meetings, among friends, or when buying and selling. We encounter negotiation on a regular basis and even a few rules can help us to negotiate more confidently and in a more goal-oriented manner.

One of the best known and most popular methods in English is the “Harvard Negotiation Method”. Known as the “Harvard Concept”, this method of specialized negotiation is considered one of the most effective techniques used by experts, graduates and students. It was developed in 1981 by professors Roger Fisher and William Ury at Harvard University as part of the ‘Harvard Negotiation Project’.

We have summarized and explained this method for you. Thus, you can convince your counterpart in the next negotiation and in everyday situations certainly quickly & sympathetically from your point of view! In addition, there are helpful phrases for a negotiation in English, so that you can negotiate confidently & convincingly with international negotiating partners.

What is the “Harvard Negotiation Method”

The core of the Harvard concept is that it overcomes the “classic” negotiation compromise and looks for solutions that are mutually beneficial. Typically, there are two different ways negotiations are conducted: the hard way or the soft way. The soft way is the more harmonious way, where the negotiator is willing to compromise. This avoids disputes and allows solutions to be found. However, this often results in a person being dissatisfied and upset. While for people who use the hard method, winning is the priority. To achieve this goal, they are willing to exploit resources and ruin the relationship with the opponent.

The Harvard method of negotiation combines the hard and the soft and that is why it is called: “the method of principled negotiation”. It can be used for any type of negotiation, regardless of the circumstances or purpose. A typical feature of the method is its focus on mutual benefit. In addition, decisions in disagreements are based on fair and objective principles. These guide negotiations in a fair and professional manner. Principled negotiation usually provides a better way to reach good agreements.

However, before we go further into this specific method of negotiation, let’s look at what phases there are in negotiating in the first place:

The six phases of negotiation

  1. Greeting
  2. Introduction of the conversation. Establishing a common starting point.
  3. Have own position A justified (Advantages/disadvantages)
  4. Have partner justify position B. (Advantages/disadvantages). Do not interrupt your partner! Allow to finish speaking.
  5. Make counter-proposals. Develop alternatives. Facilitate partner withdrawal. Secure intermediate results.
  6. Result with closure, e.g. a contract.


International Negotiation

The 4 principles of the Harvard Negotiation Method

1. Discuss factually

“Separate the people from the problem”.

All participants in a negotiation are people with emotions and different ways of thinking. This can lead to communication difficulties or misunderstandings. Consequently, it is important to isolate the “people problem” from the “substantive problem” and deal with it separately. So the following applies: Separate the person and the problem. Do not focus on the counterpart, but on the goal. 

2. Do not focus on positions, but on the interests and needs behind them. 

It is crucial to change the focus on “interests” as opposed to “positions”. This is a crucial key to opening up closed negotiating spaces. The classic haggling over positions is a lengthy process and leads to a stubborn battle of wills over whose value system is the “right” one. The parties identify so strongly with their respective position making it difficult for them to give them up again in favour of a settlement.

Instead of concentrating on the expressed positions of one person, one should focus on satisfying the interests that underlie those positions. Although the positions of two sides are completely different, their interests can overlap and a reasonable agreement can be reached. Interests, unlike positions, are rather abstract. Therefore, it is necessary to look at the other side’s position from their point of view. Another way to find out about their interests is to ask them at the beginning of the negotiations. 

3. Develop WIN-WIN options that benefit both partners.

When thinking about different options during a negotiation, there is often a lack of creativity. The pressure and thought that there is only one right solution make it difficult to find new solutions during negotiations. Therefore, one should find options for mutual benefit. 

Thus, try to avoid the following:

  1. Making hasty judgements
  2. Searching for the “only” right solution
  3. The assumption that the “cake” is limited, and
  4. The idea that others should solve their problems themselves. 

From this insight, one can derive appropriate recipes with which both conflict parties start brainstorming. 

4. Base the outcome on objective criteria

When the interests of each side within a negotiation are in conflict and each side defines what it will tolerate, one of the sides must surrender at some point. By basing the decision or agreement on objective and fair criteria, one side has to give up its previously defined standards. 

It is therefore advisable, in the interest of maintaining a good relationship, to use objective criteria. Such criteria may be: market value, previous comparative cases, scientific reports, expert criteria, costs, court decisions, moral criteria, equal treatment, tradition, reciprocity, etc. Generally, objective criteria should be independent of one’s will, legitimised and feasible. 

However, the “best alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA) must be outlined. This is the best alternative in the event that no agreement is reached. The presence of a realistic alternative strengthens one’s negotiating position, as one knows that one can fall back on a good alternative. 

Before starting negotiations and applying the above mentioned four principles, one has to go through the process of analysis, planning and discussion.

  1. In the analysis phase, the situation must be examined by collecting and systematising data. People’s perceptions and feelings, misunderstandings in communication, the interests of both sides and the different options and criteria for reaching an agreement must be taken into account. 
  2. The second phase is about developing ideas and defining a strategy. It is about finding ways to overcome the “people problems”, prioritising one’s own interests, setting reasonable goals and finding a set of options and criteria. 
  3. The last phase takes place during the negotiation. When two parties try to reach an agreement, the aspects mentioned can be addressed directly and the interests of both sides can be exchanged. In addition, options that lead to mutual benefit can be developed in common, and objective principles can serve as a base for dealing with conflicts of interest.

Helpful phrases for a negotiation in English:

Phrases for Negotiation

State your needs

For us, the priorities are …

Our main concern is …

We think the best option would be …

We’d prefer to see/ have …

We need … . Can you do that?

Explore positions

What exactly do you need?

What do you have in mind?

How would you feel about … ?

How flexible can you be on … ?

When you say… , what do you mean?

Can you be more specific?

Let me just check I understand you correctly.

Ask specific questions

What sort of quantity are you thinking of?

What kind of timescale are we looking at?

What sort of figure are we talking about?

What kind of guarantee can you give us?

We’ve been quoted a price of … . Can you match that?

Suggest alternatives

Alternatively, …

Can I suggest another way of moving forward?

There are a couple of alternatives we’d like to put forward.

Perhaps you would like to try the product on a trial basis?



If you (do that), we’ll /we can (do this).

Ok, we’d be prepared to (do that), but only if you (did this).

We could accept that, but only on one condition.

Would you be willing to accept a compromise?

Accept an offer

OK, we can agree tot hat.

That sounds reasonable.

I think that should be possible.

Refuse an offer

I’m not sure about that.

Thats’s not really a viable option for us.

That would be very difficult for us because …

I’m sorry, we can’t accept that.


Let’s just take a moment to review what we’ve discussed.

Can we just go through / go over what we’ve agreed so far?


Play for time

I’d like some time tot hink about it.

I think that’s as far as we can go at this stage.

I Don’t have the authority to make that decision by myself.

Close the deal

If you can … , we can close the deal today.

I’m ready to sign today if you can …

If we agree to … , are you happy with the other points?

That’s it, then. I think we have a deal.

So, if you’d just like to sign here. 

How to overcome cultural differences and problems in negotiations?

Differences in culture complicate business negotiations and relationships in many ways.

First, they can cause communication problems. If the Japanese supplier, for example, responds to one of the proposals with “That is difficult”, one may wrongly assume that the door for further discussion is still open. In fact, the supplier, who comes from a culture that avoids confrontations, has given an indirect “no”.

Second, cultural differences make it also difficult to understand each other’s behaviour. Americans, for example, see hiring relatives in the business as a dubious favour, but for Lebanese colleagues, hiring relatives is a natural way to attract trustworthy and loyal employees.

Third, culture influences the shape and content of the business. For example, when McDonalds first franchised in Thailand, it insisted on strict adherence to its traditional American menu. Later, under pressure from its Thai franchise, it allowed the sale of a traditional noodle dish. As a result, sales increased. Since differences in culture always require adaptation of products, management systems and personnel practices abroad, it is necessary to be open for proposals for changes in negotiations. 

After all, culture can influence people’s behaviour and interaction at the negotiating table. In some countries, like Spain, the main goal of negotiators is to get a signed contract, while in other cultures, including India, negotiators may concentrate on building an effective long-term relationship, as I found in a survey. 

Before heading to the next international negotiation, here are some simple rules for dealing with cultural differences in international negotiations and transactions: 

  1. Homework: Get information about the culture! By reading and talking to people from the country you can learn a lot. But also negotiating partners can be a source of information about their culture and this interest is mostly welcomed!
  2. Respect cultural differences! Inexperienced negotiators tend to belittle unfamiliar cultural practices. It is better, however, to understand the value system at work and to have a problem-solving conversation about any difficulties that unfamiliar customs may bring. 
  3. Be aware of how others perceive your “foreign” culture! You should try to be aware of how your own behaviour, attitudes, norms and values appear to the foreign negotiating partner. 
  4. Find ways to close the culture gap! Cultural differences create a gap between negotiating partners. Therefore, ways to close this gap should be sought constantly. A first step in bridge building requires defining common ground, e.g. a shared experience, interest or goal. 

Etiquette tips for business travellers: How to avoid blunders in other countries

Different countries, different customs – this saying is especially important for business travellers abroad. If you know the customs of a country, you can protect yourself from misunderstandings and putting your foot in your mouth. Here are a few examples: 

Asia: “Do not blow your nose at the table and look your counterpart in the eyes as little as possible. Both are considered absolutely rude.” 

China: “In China, the present for the host plays a big role. The packaging is particularly important here, and the gift is unwrapped later. Furthermore, the rule here is: Avoid sensitive topics such as the country’s politics.”

South America: “There is a different understanding of time, especially when inviting people home. If you are invited for dinner at 8 p.m., it would be very impolite to show up before 9 p.m.”

Russia: “Status counts a lot here, for example, an expensive watch or a lot of make-up for women. In Russia, more is more.”

England: “Exactly the opposite is true in England. Here it is all about understatement, meetings are very conservative and less is more.”

United Arab Emirates: “There are always middlemen in business negotiations, because it is about both parties saving face in negotiations. In Dubai, by the way, a coffee is always the sign that a meeting is over.”

USA: “In the states it is very important to hold back on private statements. A simple: “Your assistant is very nice” can already be misunderstood.”

Russia: “If you invite Russian guests to your home, you should not be afraid to buy in bulk. The rule here is: The larger part of the food must be left over, it would be unthinkable that the food is just enough.”

7 etiquette tips for Austria:

  1. Address every Austrian by their full title – even if it is very, very long.
  2. In German, use the polite form of address to your business partners (Sie). 
  3. Make your appreciation clear.
  4. Score points with German punctuality, but leave the control mania at home. 
  5. Loosen up and be open to intermediate solutions.
  6. A meeting in a café is still a meeting.
  7. Go networking on the golf course, in the forest – or on the dance floor. 

Improve your English & Negotiation Skills