Whether it’s a (sales) purchase of a used car, an agreement between a customer and a supplier or the next family holiday – we find ourselves in negotiating situations almost every day. Reason enough to take a closer look at this topic.

There are many different approaches to negotiation and negotiation strategies. These can assign to two groups:

  • Competitive negotiation strategies
  • Cooperative negotiation strategies

Competitive process or competitive negotiation

This strategy is solely about winning. Only one’s interests and goals count. The position of the negotiating opponent attack and one’s position backed up with arguments. If money is at stake, one quickly ends up haggling.

This negotiation strategy often involves threats, lies and various tricks to achieve one’s own goals. The result is usually a win-lose situation. These often result in “revenge” thoughts when the two negotiating parties meet again – the loser from last time wants to be the winner this time.

This strategy is usually to the detriment of the relationship between the negotiating parties. In particular, threats or lies (e.g. “If you don’t reduce the price, we will order from the competition in the future!”) make it impossible for trust to develop. Therefore, this strategy is suboptimal if one is interested in a longer-term relationship with the other negotiating party.

Cooperative negotiation strategy or fact-based negotiation

The difference between this approach and competitive negotiation starts with the language: instead of talking about the negotiating opponent, one talks about the negotiating partner. Therefore, the aim is not to defeat an opponent but to find a solution that satisfies the interests of both partners equally. Ideally, the result sees as a win-win situation.

The best-known negotiation model that pursues implementing a cooperative negotiation strategy is the so-called “Harvard Concept”. This was developed in the 1970s by the American legal scholar Roger Fisher and the negotiation and conflict expert William Ury and first presented in 1981 in the book “Getting to yes”).

The concept based on the Harvard Negotiation Project at Harvard University. It is part of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and based on three basic assumptions: Reasonableness, Wholeness and Fairness:

  • Reason is one of the most productive human qualities.
  • Looking at the big picture is more effective in the long run than individual tactics.
  • Fairness is valued as a desirable quality by people from a wide range of cultures.

A large-scale research project at Harvard Law School confirmed that negotiations with win-win outcomes are sustainable and facilitate future negotiations between partners. In addition, research is conducted into which approaches promote the achievement of win-win outcomes in negotiation situations.

The result of this research are the so-called four “Harvard principles”:

  1. Separate and treat a person and matter feelings separately and
    Emotions often play an essential role in negotiations. Human needs, such as appreciation or recognition, are often more important than the actual subject of the negotiation.
    Recognising these needs and treating the negotiating partner respectfully and appropriately is often the key to a good negotiation outcome.
  2. Apply accepted criteria Align
    The outcome of your negotiation with mutually agreed decision-making criteria. If you discuss these already in the course, no one has to “give in” at the end because these criteria are already accepted as fair by both, and therefore, both parties can agree to this solution.
  3. Clarify interests – move away from positions
    The purpose of your negotiations is to satisfy your interests (not to defend your positions). However, to reach a satisfactory outcome for both negotiating partners, the interests of both sides must be considered. Only then will a long-term beneficial relationship emerge.
    Become clear about your interests and those of your negotiating partner. This presupposes wanting to deal with the interests of the negotiating partner and having clarity about your interests. Especially the latter is not self-evident: often we are only aware of our positions at first, but not of the claims behind them. Good negotiation preparation is the key to success here.
  4. Develop options/resolution possibilities Use
    Creativity-enhancing methods to develop possible solutions. Develop options that serve
    The interests of both parties. In this way, you change the shape and scope of the negotiation in the interest of both parties. Options are often characterised because they bring more to one side than they cost the other.


Regardless of which negotiation strategy you choose – competitive or cooperative – both variants have one thing in common: good negotiation preparation is the essential prerequisite for a successful negotiation.

With this in mind, we wish you every success in your next negotiations.

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