Research & Insights


Harvard PON - Top 10 Negotiation Failures

(January 31, 2014)

Harvard Law School’s Harvard Program on Negotiation recently came out with their list of Top 10 Negotiation Failures for 2013.

What can this list of Top 10 Negotiation Failures tell us about the value of Principled Negotiation and Wilson Learning’s NTY program? It can tell us a lot, actually.

  • Putting Positions ahead of Interests: An overriding issue in almost all of these negotiations was the inability or unwillingness to focus on Interests rather than Positions. It is clear that both sides in every negotiation let their positions overshadow interests even though, on closer examination, it is clear that there were so many more Shared Interests than truly Opposed interests. Being focused on positions rather than interests may be one of the biggest factors in the failure of the North American Retail efforts to improve factory safety in Bangladesh (#5).
  • The value of your BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement): Several on the list (specifically numbers 10, 9, 6, and 3) were failures because one or more sides did not consider their BATNAs. For example, in the Minnesota Orchestra dispute (#6), despite being settled in January 2014, the Orchestra Association lost $60 Million and the musicians lost over a year’s pay; neither was a conscious BATNA.
  • Considering other stakeholders: At least two on the list (#10 and 8) were failures because other stakeholders not directly involved in the negotiation were ignored.The New York City Teachers Union (#10) failed to consider the actions of the Governor and Apple (#8) failed to consider the actions of the courts.
  • Failure of Dirty Tricks: Barnes and Noble (#9) learned the hard way that dirty tricks often end in failure for both sides, as did Time Warner (#7).
  • Not separating the People from the Problem: Obama and Putin (#4)-Does any more need to be said? How about North and South Korea (#2)?
  • Not being clear on Shared, Differing and Opposed Interests: Agreement on gun control (#3) was in grasp of the US government, but for one issue that could have been addressed if the negotiators had better understood the difference among these types of Interests.
  • Not Building a Golden Bridge: There is no better example of this than the defeat of gun control (#3).The Democratic Senators had a great opportunity to find a way to help Senators from conservative states address the concern of their constituents and not lose credibility in the deal. They did not and the whole thing died.

There are many other lessons that can be gained from this list. What do you think? What others have you identified?

About the Authors
Michael Leimbach

Michael Leimbach

Michael Leimbach, Ph.D., is Vice President of Global Research and Development for Wilson Learning Worldwide. Dr. Leimbach provides leadership for researching and designing Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities. He has managed major research studies in sales, leadership, and organizational effectiveness, and developed Wilson Learning’s learning transfer, impact evaluation, and return on investment models. Dr. Leimbach has consulted for a wide variety of global client organizations, serves on the ISO Technical committee for development of ISO 29999 Standard for Learning Service Providers, and is Editor-in-Chief for Advances in Developing Human Resources. Dr. Leimbach has authored six books, published over 100 professional articles, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences.

Read more by Michael Leimbach

Anthony Pacifico

Anthony Pacifico

Anthony Pacifico is an organizational consultant with extensive experience in helping employees in organizations perform at the highest levels. He has direct experience with pharmaceutical industry, telecom industry, financial services industry and power equipment and robotics industry. His international experience includes conducting sessions in Germany, Rome, Madrid, Bali, Vevey (Switzerland) and Mexico for participants throughout the world. Specialties are: Sales Development and Sales Management, Negotiation Skills, Leadership Development, Project Management.