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5 Principles of Negotiation to Boost Your Bargaining Skills in Business Situations

Ethics and negotiation [1] and norms in negotiation are useful whether you’re negotiating for yourself or on behalf of someone else. Each ethical case you come up against will have its own twists and nuances, but there a few principles that negotiators should keep in mind while at the bargaining table.

By asking yourself the following questions, you can illuminate the boundaries between right and wrong at the negotiation table and in the process discover your own ethical standards:


Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better [2] Negotiator [2], from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

5 Negotiation Principles to Boost Your Negotiation Skills in Real Life Business Negotiation Scenarios

Negotiation Principle 1. Reciprocity [3]:

Would I want others to treat me or someone close to me this way?

Negotiation Principle 2. Publicity:

Would I be comfortable if my actions were fully and fairly described in the newspaper?

Negotiation Principle 3. Trusted friend [4]:

Would I be comfortable telling my best friend, spouse, or children what I am doing?

(See Also: What If We Have the Same Social Motive at the Bargaining Table [5]: When two people share the same motivation, they may fall commit the same mistakes and reinforce each other’s failures. In this article, we evaluate a labor negotiation in which the chief management negotiator withholds information about revenue projections, while the labor leader holds back details about workforce sentiment. With impasse the result, it helps to be aware of when you’re negotiating with a fellow individualist or a fellow cooperator [6], your goal should be to overcome the inherent flaws of your orientation (to identify your negotiating style – please read “Identifying Your Negotiation Style” [7]).)

Negotiation Principle 4. Universality:

Would I advise anyone else in my situation to act this way?

Negotiation Principle 5. Legacy:

Does this action reflect how I want to be known and remembered?

Doing the right thing sometimes means that we must accept a known cost. But in the long run, doing the wrong thing may be even more costly.

See Also: Trust in Negotiations [8] – Trust takes time to develop but negotiators rarely have time to build strong relationships with their counterparts so instead a cautious approach is undertaken in order to protect yourself from a bad deal. In this article, the argument for taking risks during a negotiation with a counterpart that you do not know is explored and the benefits and pitfalls of this risk-taking approach are delineated.

See Also: Beware Your Counterpart’s Biases [9] – After a failed negotiation [10], it’s tempting to construct a story about how the other side’s irrationality led to impasse. Unfortunately, such stories will not resurrect the deal. In the past we have encouraged you to ‘debias’ your own behavior by identifying the assumptions that may be clouding your judgment. We have introduced you to a number of judgment biases – common, systematic errors in thinking that are likely to affect your decisions and harm your outcomes in negotiation.

Related Negotiation Training [11] Article: Strategies for Negotiating More Rationally [12] – In past articles, we have highlighted a variety of psychological biases that affect negotiators, many of which spring from a reliance on intuition. Of course, negotiators are not always affected by bias; we often think systematically and clearly at the bargaining table. Most negotiators believe they are capable of distinguishing between situations in which they can safely rely on intuition from those that require more careful thought – but often they are wrong. In fact, most of us trust our intuition more than evidence suggests that we should.


Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better [2] Negotiator [2], from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Adapted from “Ethics and Negotiation” by Michael Wheeler [13] for the March 2004 issue of the Negotiation [14] newsletter.

Originally published in 2013.