The Seven Elements of Harvard Negotiation Model

Mastering Negotiations with the Seven Elements of the Harvard Negotiation Model

Negotiation is an essential skill in both personal and professional realms. Whether you’re closing a business deal, resolving conflicts, or reaching compromises, effective negotiation can lead to mutually beneficial outcomes. The Harvard Negotiation Model, developed by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, offers a comprehensive framework for achieving successful negotiations. This model emphasizes principled negotiation, focusing on interests, not positions, to foster mutually beneficial agreements. In this article, we will delve into the seven key elements of the Harvard Negotiation Model and provide real-life examples for each.


The first element of the Harvard Negotiation Model emphasizes identifying and understanding the underlying interests of all parties involved. Interests are the fundamental needs, concerns, and desires that drive individuals to engage in negotiation. By focusing on interests, negotiators can go beyond surface-level positions and find creative solutions that satisfy the needs of all parties.

Example: Buying a Car – Imagine you are interested in buying a car from a dealership. The salesperson initially presents a high price, and you counter with a lower offer. Instead of getting stuck on positions, you inquire about the salesperson’s interests, which may include making a profit, achieving a monthly sales target, or maintaining customer satisfaction. By understanding these interests, you can propose alternative solutions, such as purchasing additional accessories or providing positive feedback for outstanding service, which can lead to a win-win outcome.


The Harvard Negotiation Model encourages negotiators to base their discussions on objective criteria and legitimate standards. Objective criteria provide a fair and unbiased basis for evaluating potential solutions, fostering trust and transparency in the negotiation process.

Example: Salary Negotiation – During a salary negotiation with your employer, you present your accomplishments and request a raise. Instead of merely stating your desired salary, you back up your request with data from salary surveys, industry benchmarks, and your contribution to the company’s growth. By using legitimate criteria, you demonstrate the fairness and reasonability of your request, making it easier for your employer to consider your proposal seriously.


Building and maintaining positive relationships is critical in negotiations. The Harvard Negotiation Model emphasizes that good relationships enhance communication and trust, making it easier to address conflicts, solve problems and find common ground.

Example: Vendor Agreement – Suppose you run a fast-growing business and are negotiating a long-term agreement with a new vendor. Instead of approaching the negotiation solely as a one-off event, you take the time to establish a friendly and respectful relationship with the vendor. By nurturing this relationship, both parties build trust and are more willing to communicate openly, leading to a better understanding of each other’s interests and finding solutions that advance mutual interest.

BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement)

BATNA refers to the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, which represents the best option available to a party if the current negotiation fails. It is your Plan B. Understanding your BATNA and their BATNA empowers you to make informed decisions during the negotiation process.

Example: Real Estate Purchase – You are interested in buying a house and have been negotiating with the seller. Before committing to a final offer, you explore other available properties and assess their suitability. By knowing your BATNA, which may be purchasing a comparable house at a lower price, you can negotiate with the seller more confidently, knowing you have viable alternatives if the current deal doesn’t work out.


The Harvard Negotiation Model encourages negotiators to generate a variety of options for mutual gain. Expanding the pool of possible solutions increases the likelihood of finding innovative and acceptable agreements. Diverge to converge.

Example: Project Allocation in a Team – Within a project team, members have different preferences for specific tasks. Instead of imposing decisions, the team holds a brainstorming session where members suggest various task allocations based on their skills and interests. By considering multiple options, the team can create a well-rounded distribution of tasks that optimizes everyone’s strengths, leading to higher productivity and satisfaction.


Commitment is crucial for turning an agreement into action. The Harvard Negotiation Model emphasizes the importance of securing clear and explicit commitments from all parties to ensure the implementation of the agreed-upon terms.

Example: Business Partnership – Two entrepreneurs are considering a joint business venture. During the negotiation process, they discuss and draft a detailed partnership agreement that outlines each party’s roles, responsibilities, and financial contributions. By committing to this well-defined agreement, both entrepreneurs can proceed with confidence, knowing that each party’s expectations are clear and mutually agreed upon.


Effective communication is at the heart of successful negotiations. The Harvard Negotiation Model emphasises active listening, empathy, and clear articulation of interests and concerns. A strategic negotiator will blend advocacy and inquiry skills to achieve the best outcomes.

Example: Family Vacation Planning – Planning a family vacation involves negotiating various preferences and interests. Instead of resorting to arguments, family members actively listen to each other’s suggestions, concerns, and desires for the trip. By fostering open communication, the family can collaboratively select a vacation destination that accommodates everyone’s interests and ensures an enjoyable experience for all.


The Harvard Negotiation Model provides a powerful framework for achieving successful negotiations. By focusing on interests, legitimacy, relationships, BATNA, options, commitment, and communication, negotiators can navigate complex situations with confidence and finesse. Mastering these seven elements empowers individuals to forge agreements that satisfy the needs of all parties involved, leading to mutually beneficial outcomes in both personal and professional spheres.


Written by J C Chan, Editor – Negotiation Today