Insisting on using objective criteria

The fourth rule of Fisher and Ury’s Harvard Negotiation Project Method is based on the relevance of principled agreements and not giving in to pressure. Negotiations should be arenas for developing good arguments, and negotiators should be open to reason but closed to threats.

In the book Getting Yes. How to negotiate without giving in, Fisher and Ury establish that negotiations aim to reach intelligent and fair agreements, and a good way to achieve this is to turn to established principles, precedents, or community practices. These have an unusual power of attraction when the parties must reach an agreement.

There are two questions to ask at this point: “How do you develop objective criteria?” and second, “How do you use them in negotiation?” On the first question, Fisher and Ury consider that objective criteria need to be independent of what each party wants to achieve and need to be legitimate and practical. These criteria would fulfil an anchoring function in the negotiation, and their legitimacy would be independent of the parties.

Here, it is worth reflecting on what the philosopher Jon Elster has called the civilising force of hypocrisy, where the most powerful party defends arguments with the language of impartiality, where, in fact, it appeals to its own interests. Elster believes that, despite everything, this exercise of turning arguments into the language of fairness favours minorities.

The Harvard Method of Negotiation holds that each issue should be framed as a joint search for an objective criterion. To achieve this impartiality of the method, it is crucial to insist on sharing the search. The classic example is two people who want to share a cake. The unbiased method is for one to split the cake and the other to choose the piece they like best. This guarantees agreement with the final split.

Negotiations tend to be more complex and usually incorporate the price dimension. In the joint search for an objective criterion, a relevant question may be asked about the theory behind the price. In sales and purchases, the price theory is usually based on the various alternative offers and demands on the market, in addition to the specific proposal of the other party. This increases or decreases the parties’ bargaining power and gives arguments for their possible demands.

What is relevant is to build a scope for deliberation with the other party to see the arguments for or against each possibility. Fisher and Ury recommend “reason and be open to reasoning about which principles are more appropriate”. Talking about principles, which underlie positions, has greater persuasive power. Negotiators must be open to reasoned persuasion on the merits of each view.

This approach to reaching intelligent and impartial agreements is an attractive alternative to negotiations based on positions, threats or misinformation. Fisher and Ury argue that “never yield to pressure, only to principle.” The best way to get the other party to do something is not by forcing them, but by convincing them with good arguments in what sense the required action is also in their interest.

From this perspective, negotiations are areas of persuasion that would be based on the combination of two premises: a) Being open to reason; b) Insistence on a solution based on an objective criterion.

This is the last rule of the Harvard Method of Negotiation. Fisher and Ury’s approach allows negotiations to be approached from a constructive and cooperative point of view, where it is considered that reaching a good agreement is a joint task of both parties where the various possibilities should be explored well and on the arguments behind the interests of the parties deliberated. Sometimes, obtaining the yes is not a conquest in enemy territory but a more cooperative task to lay the foundations of mutual benefits.

Inventing options for mutual benefit

In the third rule of the Harvard Negotiation Method, Fisher and Ury propose, on the one hand, exploring the various possibilities that may arise and, on the other hand, making the common interests explicit. The authors’ first piece of advice is to “expand the pie before dividing it”.

In the face of this rule that demands “inventing options for mutual benefit,” some obstacles in the form of attitudes or inertia inhibit the creative process of inventing multiple options. The first is premature judgment when negotiators with tunnel vision focus on specific options. The second is the search for a single answer, where it is taken for granted that each situation has only one possible solution. The third is to assume that the pie is fixed and the only variable is to share it when there may be situations where the pie increases to benefit both parties. The fourth is to think that “solving your problem is your problem”, where the issue is that the negotiation is approached from a competitive view between the parties and the cooperative aspects are forgotten. It is possible to increase mutual benefit from the cooperative approach by analysing the various options.

Faced with this scenario, in which the various possibilities of negotiations are not taken advantage of, Fisher and Ury propose multiple solutions. The main approach is to consider that negotiations have a creative component where the act of inventing options has to be separated from the act of judging them. This can be achieved by brainstorming, a process where the parties meet and openly and uninhibitedly put forward all possible options. It is a process where creativity counts and where there is a rule of non-criticism. Afterwards, it is necessary to evaluate and decide whether to incorporate the multiple options into the negotiation.

By following these steps, negotiation is transformed into a creative and cooperative process of finding the best mutually beneficial solutions. Ways must be invented to make the decision easy for both parties. It is sometimes forgotten that negotiations occur because the parties have common interests. Most of the time, these common interests remain implicit. The Harvard Negotiation Method states that these common interests must be made explicit and insists upon as a productive basis for negotiation.

On the other hand, the differences in interests of the parties have great strategic power for the smooth course of negotiations. In particular, there may be situations where an issue is of great interest to you and of little importance to the other party or vice versa. This can lead to a compromise agreement. It is precisely the exploration of differing interests that can be the key to a successful negotiation.

Negotiations occur in scenarios of cooperation and conflict between human beings. One party wants something from the other and vice versa. One way to approach negotiation is as a competition between adversaries who are jockeying for positions. Fisher and Ury propose a method for seeking intelligent agreements through a creative process of inventing multiple options for mutual benefit. Parties may have partly common and partly divergent interests. Insisting on shared interests and creatively managing differing interests is the best way to find an agreement that is best for both parties. Negotiating well also means being creative.

Focus on interest, not positions

The second rule of the Harvard Negotiation Method states: focus on interests, not positions. We often find ourselves in situations that become endless, where the parties argue hard about one or two variables. Each party sets its positions there, and each concession has been made after hard work. There may be more rigid or flexible negotiators, but Fisher and Ury propose that the approach of these negotiations is not the most appropriate.

The authors of Getting to Yes. How to negotiate without giving in consider that rather than focusing the negotiations on positions, it is smarter to analyse the parties’ interests and look for a solution that satisfies both parties. Human beings have diverse interests that are not usually on the surface of the terms of a negotiation. In addition, the interests of different people are multiple and diverse, which can be especially relevant in negotiations.

The same object can have a very different utility depending on each person’s interests. Although negotiations usually stay on the surface, in the discussion from positions that seem irreconcilable, reluctant to make mutual concessions. The key is to stop and analyse our interests in that negotiation and, especially, what the other party’s interests are. Here, you should pay attention to all the torrents of information we can obtain from issues that are unimportant, such as informal conversations, body language, impartial data checks, etc.

The Harvard method believes that negotiation should focus on interests, and the way to bring them out is to ask the question, “Why?” This forces each side to justify its points of view. This effort can bear fruit if, in this way, the interests underlying the positions held are ultimately appealed to. Moreover, the negotiation must focus on those interests to be an intelligent agreement.

In the second instance, Fisher and Ury propose to ask: “Why not?”. Here, the parties must justify why their choices are better than the other party’s and in what way. They must develop the convincing power of their proposals and try to show their advantages. This question also serves to explore the interests of each party.

Negotiation occurs because of common interests, although there may also be divergent ones. When undertaking a negotiation, it is essential to know the other party’s true interests. It is also relevant when making an offer to analyse what it entails for you and whether it meets your interests. Sometimes, the solution can reasonably meet the interests of both parties. But when making an offer, the need to save face with the other party must always be present. In other words, it helps to justify the final result.

If the agreements are very disproportionate, they may not be stable over time. This would mean they do not reflect to one of the interests of one of the parties.

In this Harvard Method rule, Fisher and Ury advise, “Make a list of interests”. The usual focus of negotiations is often placed on seeking concessions on one variable, usually monetary. But we lose sight of the interests, which may be diverse and may require different accommodations. It would be interesting to explore the underlying interests in the negotiations to make them explicit because, on many occasions, the shared and divergent interests may show that we are facing an interdependent decision: to get something, we need the other party, and the other party needs us to get something, often something different.

Human beings have diverse interests, and we seek to satisfy them through our life plan. Negotiations, which can be professional negotiations that also encompass everyday life, are a way to find cooperative agreements with others, and success can come from knowing how to explore mutual and divergent interests. It is a way to focus negotiations on interests and reach intelligent agreements.