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How can you transform routine conflicts into opportunities for collaboration and growth? At the Higher Ed Facilities Forum, Pete Zuraw, VP, of Market Strategy & Development, and Caroline Johnson, Senior Director at Gordian, shared a compelling approach: principle-based negotiation.

They demonstrated how focusing on interests, not positions, can turn gridlock into progress, using a real-world example of six campuses within a university system struggling to allocate capital funds. Caroline observed, "The reality is that the university system's leadership neglected to look at these campuses as individual entities with distinct space portfolios and were treating them as if they were solving for the same challenges, leading to gridlock and frustration." 

In this scenario, principle-based negotiation offered a way forward. By shifting the focus from positions (what each campus wanted) to interests (the underlying needs and concerns of each campus), the parties were able to move past conflict and find mutually beneficial solutions. 

Pete and Caroline walked through the framework, which centered on four key steps:

  • Tackle problems, not people
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Identify options for mutual gain
  • Insist on shared, verifiable truths

By shifting the conversation from equal treatment to equitable outcomes, grounded in objective criteria like net asset value targets, the campuses found a path "out of the mud." They let go of rigid positions and rallied around a shared definition of fairness, unlocking creative solutions that worked for everyone. Caroline shared the impact of this shift, noting, "In the end, these campuses successfully navigated from a model based on equality to a model based on equity, and that was huge."

Throughout the presentation, they emphasized the broad applicability of principle-based negotiation, sharing examples from interdepartmental squabbles to high-stakes union negotiations. They stressed that while the approach requires a mindset shift, the payoff - stronger collaboration, better solutions, and the ability to transform conflict into opportunity - is well worth the effort.

Watch the full presentation here: 


Tracey Lerminiaux

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Tracey Lerminiaux is a content and conference producer for influence group focused on healthcare, higher education, and hospitality. She's a lifelong learner that loves connecting intriguing minds and hearing a good story. Though, if a cute dog crosses her path, all bets are off and she will be stopping to say hello

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