Harvard PON: Top 10 Negotiation Failures

By Michael Leimbach, PhD, Anthony Pacifico

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

10 Negotiation Failures

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?


Michael Leimbach, PhD

Michael Leimbach, PhD, is a globally recognized expert in instructional design and leadership development. As Vice President of Global Research and Development for Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc., he has worked with numerous Global 1000 organizations in Australia, England, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and throughout the United States. Over more than 30 years, Dr. Leimbach had developed Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities, published over 100 professional articles, coauthored four books, been Editor-in-Chief for the highly acclaimed ADHR research journal, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences. He also serves on the ISO Technical Committee (TC232) on Quality Standards for Learning Service Providers and on the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development Dean’s Advisory Board.