Principled Negotiation

This article uses the book “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton of the Harvard Negotiation Project to outline what the Principled Negotiation Method is and why you should conider using it.

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In: Roger  Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton: Books

What is Negotiation?

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, to negotiate means to “confer with another so as to arrive at the settlement of some matter”. Each side of the negotiation table is there to get what they want. Whether you are suing, being sued, making a business deal, deciding on where to eat or what movie to watch. We all are negotiators, whether or not you are cognizant of it.

What is Principled Negotiation?

Principled negotiation is a method of negotiation that emphasizes collaborative decision making, rather than haggling or bargaining. The principled negotiation method also provides tools that may be useful for conflict resolution, mediation, facilitation, and other interpersonal communications as well.

The authors of “Getting to Yes” (2011) offer principled negotiation as an alternative to hard and soft negotiation, which both have drawbacks addressed by this method.

Hard Negotiators view each negotiation scenario as a battle of wills where the side with an extreme position who can hold out the longest wins. They come to the table with a goal to win the battle. However, this approach is heavy on resources, and even heavier on relationships.

Soft Negotiators try very hard to avoid personal conflict, making it much easier to reach an agreement. However, it is emotionally draining for them, often left feeling exploited and bitter.

Principled negotiation uses both hard and soft tactics. It is hard on merits, but soft on people. It looks for mutual gains, and where conflicting interests are identified, objective or independent third-party standards are used to reconcile them.

What is the Problem with Bargaining Over Positions?

The authors of “Getting to Yes” assert that your method of negotiation should be assessed using three criteria:

  1. It should produce wise agreements (meets both party’s interests, fair, durable, takes community into account)
  2. It should be efficient
  3. It should improve (or at least not damage) the relationship between participants

The authors argue that bargaining over positions produces unwise outcomes, is inefficient and endangers on-going relationships. Whereas principled negotiation does not.

Arguing over positions produces unwise outcomes because it locks you or the other party into a position. The more you are forced to defend or clarify a position, you make it more concrete, locking yourself in deeper.

Arguing over positions is inefficient because it creates incentives to delay settlement. It compels people to threaten, stonewall or use other shady negotiation tactics that prolong reaching an agreement. Furthermore, if any one party comes to the table with an extreme initial position, the more time it will take to meet somewhere more reasonable.

Arguing over positions is hard on relationships as negotiation tends to be a battle of wills. Solving problems becomes adversarial, rather than collaborative. This can fuel feelings of anger and resentment on either side as they flexibly bend their position to meet the other side’s ridged wall, while their own interests go unaddressed.

Principled negotiation uses four main focus points to address these criteria:

  1. Separate people from the problems: Practice how to address problems without attacking or putting down the other person.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions. Positions are a good tool because they tell the other side what you want. But don’t make this the focus. Focus on the interests and collaborate together to find solutions that meet both sides. Here you will find innovation, and relationship building opportunities.
  3. Invent multiple options that have mutual gains before making a decision.
  4. Insist that the decision-making process use objective or agreed upon third party standards


If you are interested in the principled negotiation method, read my review for “Getting to Yes” or better yet, buy and read the book!

Thank you so much for visiting my blog and reading this article. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, ideas or opinions in the comments below.

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