What is “Principled Negotiation”?

There are three primary requirements to successful negotiations. The first is that a project manager (PM) must aim to settle conflict without causing harm to the project’s objectives. The second requirement is that PMs encourage and develop honesty between the negotiators. The last requirement is to develop a win-win solution that satisfies the conflicting parties as well as the needs of the project and organization (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 135). These three technique requirements were developed into a specific set of methods for negotiating called the “principled negotiation” method. In 1983, Fisher et al. created the Harvard Negotiation Project that formalized this method with four points. The four points of “principled negotiation” are to separate the people from the problem, focus on interests not positions, before trying to reach agreement invent options for mutual gain, and insist on using objective criteria (Meredith, Shafer and Mantel 2017, 136). This kind of straightforward method allows for win-win solutions to arise while avoiding many common negotiations pitfalls like interpersonal conflict.

An example of how to utilize these four points can help communicate these methods. When attempting to separate the people from the problem, it is important to focus on the goals of the project. Clearly defining the problem can help alleviate this issue because it helps maintain focus on the big picture problem instead of any one individuals’ solution. When focusing on the interests, not the positions, it is important to start a conversation with an open-ended question. Instead of pre-describing a solution through the use of a position, an open-ended question can help ensure that all parties are satisfied with the shared solutions they develop through brainstorming together. This leads to the third point, where it is important to have the group come up with options that provide mutual gain for all parties. If the problem is well defined from the previous steps, this also allows the use of objective criteria to help indicate when a solution provides mutual gain for all parties based on their interests. Objective criteria also ensures positions and opinions of participants do not prevent attainment of the project goals as they work together to seek mutually beneficial solutions.

Author: Logan Callen


Meredith, Jack R., Scott M. Shafer, and Samuel J. Mantel. 2017. Project Management: A Strategic Managerial Approach. 10th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN-13: 9781119369097.

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