Harvard Conflict Resolution Method

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With help of the concept developed in the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, groups may generate win-win solutions in conflicts.

Time 1,5 hours

Material room, paper and pens for presentation and discussion

Group Size 15-35 people

Keywords conflict management, win-win solution, collaboration, working atmosphere, critical thinking



Arrive at a win-win-situation – with „no losers“ Empowering people to get a picture of their „best alternative“ – a plan B 


1. The facilitator explains the Harvard concept and the corresponding criteria (see below).

2. Afterwards mini-groups of 3 persons are formed.

3. Each group picks an earlier case of an unsolved conflict and suggests win-win solutions based on the newly learnt principles of the concept. (In case there is an ongoing conflict within the given group this conflict can be chosen).

4. The suggested solutions are to be presented and evaluated in the bigger group.

The Concept

The four basic principles of successful negotiation from the Harvard Concept

1. Separate the people from the problem

The relationship tends to become entangled with the problem. The negotiators have to separate the relationship from the substance and have to deal directly with the people's problem. How to do it?

  • Put yourself in the shoes of your counterpart.
  • Talk about the ideas and expectations of both parties.
  • Do not hold your counterpart responsible for your own problems.
  • Make sure the other party is involved in the decision and actively participates.
  • Make it possible for him to "save face": Adapt your suggestions to the value system of your negotiation partner.
  • Articulate your emotions and acknowledge that they are justified.
  • Allow the other party to let of steam.
  • Use symbolic gesture (e.g. shaking hands, a little gift).
  • Listen attentively and provide feedback on what has been said.
  • Talk about yourself, not the other party.
  • Establish active relations. Get to know the other person.

2. Focus on interests, not on positions

Try to look beyond the words the other person has choosen and recognise the interests behind. The following questions should be asked:

  • Which interests do I want to secure?
  • Which interests will the other side have?

During the negotiation you should identify the different interests of each side and work on them together, because the interests define the problem. How is it possible to identify the interests?

  • Ask “Why?”
  • Ask “Why not?. Think about their choice”.

You have to realize that each side has multiple interests. For keeping the overview and acknowledging their standpoint as part of the problem make a list of all interests. For the successful negotiation it is necessary to be precise but flexible, be hard on the problem at the same time keeping soft attitude on the people. Look forward not back.

3. Develop options for mutual gain

The conflict parts have to invent alternatives and options which offer advantages for both parties. The best way is to suggest the other side something which covers their interest and which costs me less then it gives the other party. The conflict parties have to develop options which serve the interests of both sides. It is helpful

  • to separate the process of finding options from the evaluation of the same options.
  • to broaden the options and create multi options instead of the "one" solution.
  • to kook for benefits for all sides.
  • to develop proposals which will make the decision easier for the other party.

Make a brainstorming. Design for the brainstorming an informal atmosphere.

4. Insist on objective Criteria

Experiences, ideas or options are often controversial. It is possible to solve the problem, if the conflict parties can find common standards. The negotiator has to find out some mutually acknowledged criteria and standard:

  • covert every dispute into a search for objective criteria.
  • produce sound arguments, be open for arguments which are based on reasonable criteria
  • never give in to any kind of pressure, only accept sensible principles.


  • How difficult or easy was it to apply the concept on the case?
  • Was it useful for finding win-win solutions for the conflict or not?
  • If yes, how did you solve it?
  • Were any of the principles ignored? Which were extremely helpful?


f the group has chosen an actual conflict within their group, the facilitator has to make a sensible and good moderation to avoid any escalation of the conflict as in this case the participants work IN the conflict and not ON the conflict. The facilitator takes over the role of a negotiator.


Varsenik Minasyan

Facilitator and expert for non-formal education, condlict management and right-wing extremism.