What is Principled Negotiation?

“Let Us Never Negotiate Out Of Fear, But Let Us Never Fear To Negotiate” – JFK

Negotiating is something we engage in every day. Whether it’s asking our boss for a raise or discussing with our children when the lights need to be turned out, negotiation is something that we can’t escape. Many people negotiate with an adversarial style which can often be ineffective at resolving disputes. However, Principled Negotiation, developed by the Harvard Negotiation Project reinvents the approach to make for effective bargaining. This article will explore some of the elements of Principled Negotiation. For more information, you should consider reading Getting To Yes by Willam Uri and Rodger Fisher. 

The Problems Of Adversarial Negotiation

The most common form of negotiation is an adversarial approach. This approach seeks to maximise victory. The bargain comes down to how much one party will get or who will be forced to do something (e.g., specific performance), creating an adversarial result. The most common form of adversarial negotiation is where parties negotiate the sale of a car. Parties will offer prices to each other until they reach a zone of agreement. The problem with the adversarial approach is that it hardball’s the other party and does not necessarily achieve the most appropriate outcome.

Principled Negotiation: Why It Is Effective?

However, a Principled Negotiation is an interest-based approach that focusses primarily on conflict management and resolution. A win/win approach underpins the philosophy of this negotiation style. This style has since become preferenced by seasoned negotiators because it allows parties to work together to achieve a common goal. Some of the core elements from this approach include:


All parties have interests, needs, desires, and fears. These are the elements of what drives the “why” behind the dispute. Whether it’s trying to work out whether to go public or establish a share agreement, interests are what drive the parties. It is essential for parties to recognize the opposing parties view is likely to be unchanged. Therefore, negotiators should always establish what the interest of the other party is. 


Principled Negotiation is not about arguing over the differences between the parties. It’s about creating options that are feasible to both parties and reforming standards to ensure the dispute does not occur again. Parties should generate different options before they come to the table to ensure they can come to an amicable solution. However, this approach does not suggest that parties should not make concessions but rather create a mutually beneficial plan to resolve the issue.


Parties shouldn’t assume just because they are taking a Principled approach to negotiation that they will always reach a solution. Negotiations fail for many reasons. A solution to these issues is to consider the BATNA. BATNA stands for Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Most other parties BATNA is to walk away from the negotiation. Your objective is to prevent the other party from realising their BATNA. For example, you could bring to the attention to parties how costly court case would be if they leave the negotiation. Hence, always consider your own and other parties BATNA.


Finally, relationships are also critical to resolving any dispute. A poor relationship will potentially block a resolution. Maintaining a functional relationship throughout the negotiation means separating people from the problem. Parties can maintain good relationships by not assigning blame, not reacting to an emotional outburst and recognising legitimate emotions. Therefore, you should always consider how your negotiation style can impact your relationship with the other party.

Protect Your Interests

Negotiation is something that you can never escape in life. Conflict and disputes will always occur. However, having the skills to resolve those disputes is essential to creating growth. Principled Negotiation is the most appropriate style of negotiation. Therefore, these skills are not just relevant to business but life in general.

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