Harvard concept

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The Harvard concept (also Harvard approach , Harvard principle or Harvard model ) is the method of factual negotiation . The underlying principle was formulated by the American legal scholar Roger Fisher together with William Ury in 1981 in the book Getting to Yes (German title: The Harvard Concept ). Bruce Patton was added later. The concept is based on the Harvard Negotiation Project at Harvard University . It is part of the Program on Negotiation of Harvard Law School .

The aim of the method is a constructive and peaceful agreement in conflict situations with a win-win result. The method goes beyond classic compromises . The focus is on the greatest possible mutual benefit, whereby the quality of personal relationships should also be preserved for both sides of the negotiation beyond the factual agreement.

Concept description


Four conditions must be met:

  1. treat people and their interests (the issues) separately;
  2. focus on the interests of those involved, not their positions;
  3. develop decision options (choices); and
  4. insist on objective assessment criteria (e.g. legal regulations, ethical standards, etc.), compliance with which the goal is an agreement that meets the following requirements:
  • the good relations between the parties are maintained,
  • both sides take what they need - or, if both need the same, share it fairly (for example, according to the "one-shares-one-chooses" principle) -, and
  • Negotiations are time-efficient (since positions are not ridden around).

According to the Harvard method, “bad” agreements are to be avoided. For this purpose, in preparation for negotiations, the “best alternative” ( BATNA ) outside of an agreement is used in comparison to the “bad agreement” and compared with this.

It is important that negotiations are carried out objectively. This is achieved by:

  • lazy tricks in negotiations are immediately addressed directly to take the wind out of the sails, and
  • one does not allow oneself to be put under pressure to reach an agreement and, if necessary, the negotiations are interrupted - until the other party finds an objective type of negotiation (here the type of negotiation itself can become the subject of the negotiation)

In the case of constant personal attacks by a negotiating partner, skillful evasion and simultaneous reference to factual aspects can lead the negotiations back to this level.

In the case of absurd or unacceptable demands by one side, the developers of the concept suggest

  • to accept hypothetically, to evaluate this out loud and to explain the unacceptable consequences,
  • asking the other for advice on their own unacceptable issues, and / or
  • to call in an independent third party ( mediator ).

The Harvard concept differentiates between the two communication levels, content (i.e. the agreement to be negotiated per se) and negotiation (the meta level).

The Harvard Concept in Business

The Harvard concept offers four areas of corporate policy:

  1. participation
  2. Recruitment (with deployment and layoffs )
  3. Reward system
  4. Work organization .

The aim is to coordinate these four policy areas with one another and with the corporate strategy so that the profitability of the company can be improved by involving employees in decisions. The policy fields are influenced by the interests of the participants (owners, employees) and reference groups (unions and suppliers) of the company. The fields are guided by situational factors (e.g. corporate philosophy ).

Known uses


  • Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce M. Patton (Eds.): The Harvard Concept. The classic of negotiation technique. Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 1984; 24th edition ibid 2013, ISBN 978-3-593-39920-1 ( limited preview in Google book search).


  1. Program on Negotiation at www.pon.harvard.edu