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Negotiation Blog - Best Alternatives
Do you talk about your other negotiation options, or BATNAs?
By Thomas Wood
There is almost always a time and a place to talk about your other options if this agreement can’t be reached on mutually beneficial terms. Sometimes disclosure of your options pushes the parties to find agreement. But when and how to disclose your other options?
“It depends” is the most comprehensive response, but not a very helpful one. To make this posting easier to read, let’s refer to your Plan B, or other options, as BATNAs – best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Here are a few thoughts:
Never do this: Never reveal a weak BATNA
- Assess the relative strengths of each side’s BATNAs. Yours may be strong, but is theirs stronger?
- Weak BATNAs are not taken seriously, thus eroding your credibility.
- Revealing a weak BATNA gives the other side confidence to negotiate for even better terms.
Timing: Pick a good time; don’t worry about the best time.
- Regardless of the strength of your BATNA, it’s not usually wise to reveal it too early in negotiations. Why? It can be interpreted as a threat. This often brings out a more aggressive nature in your counter-part, and in a tense negotiation, can easily escalate conflict.
- Once a major or difficult issue has been resolved to the parties’ mutual satisfaction, it is usually safe to refer to your BATNA. Your counterpart already knows you are investing the same effort and time to reach agreement.
- When asked directly. But don’t feel that full disclosure is necessary to maintain trust. Acknowledging that you have other options (assuming you do) is appropriate, and noting a name, type, can leverage the power of your BATNA.
How to reveal a BATNA in Negotiations
- Referring or hinting at a BATNA is often appropriate and rarely harmful
- It’s ok to be vague. If pressed, it’s ok to say that you’re not here to talk about your other options, but to see if agreement can be reached.
- A conversational tone helps to ensure you don’t sound threatening. The idea is to demonstrate your power without damaging a good relationship.
- And it's almost never a good idea to reveal the details of your BATNA! If your counterpart knows those details, he/she is likely to offer you something just a bit better -- your Least Acceptable Agreement (LAA), and you are likely to take it.
- Your BATNA is only as good as your willingness and ability to execute!
- BATNA bluffing is very risky, lest the other side backs off entirely, or discovers your ploy and loses trust in you.
- And if you don’t have a BATNA, start building options for next time.
Top 5 Negotiation Lessons from Summer Vacation
By Marianne Eby
Like me, many of you are returning from summer vacation. You relaxed, explored, and played. But you didn’t sharpen your negotiation saw. Or did you? Without realizing, you likely practiced your negotiation skills, and upped our negotiation quotient. Here’s my Top 5 negotiation lessons from summer vacation:
- Have confidence in the process.
Almost two thirds of Americans work during summer vacation, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. . We know we have to work, at least some, while we’re gone. And yet, we go, with confidence in the value of vacation -- expecting we will come back refreshed for a positive impact on our lives. We should go into negotiations the same -- confident that if we follow a disciplined process, we will achieve predictable and repeatable results that create value for both parties.
- Be creative.
Vacation presented us opportunities to play outside the sandbox. In a new place our personality wasn’t known, so we experimented with our approach or style to get the results we wanted. We experienced new things: different foods, new ways of taking photos, other cultures. Being creative with our choices allowed us to discover new things. Being creative in a negotiation allows us to find new solutions to difficult issues.
- Adjust your style and build rapport.
People we had to deal with on vacation were unfamiliar -- hotel desk clerks, beach patrol, waiters, tour guides, friends of friends. Naturally we wanted a pleasant experience, so we explored common areas of interest to build rapport. And because so much was new and different on vacation, we asked lots of questions. Because we were sincerely curious, we listened well to the answers. Some of these people even made it into our virtual rolodex. Think of your negotiation counterpart similarly. Adjusting your style to the situation or person, and making a personal connection, builds trust. And as we all know, building trust allows both parties to share their true interests, and find hidden value in negotiations.
- Plan, Propose options, and develop alternatives.
Most of us planned our vacations more thoroughly than we plan most negotiations – hotel reservations, addresses to enter into our GPS, must-go concert tickets. We knew the budget we wanted to keep and the money and time limits we could not exceed. When different members of our family were unhappy with the offering, we proposed options. We suggested a willingness to hike the long trail today if everyone would get up early for kayaking tomorrow. Indeed, one of the best negotiation practices is to offer options. People stay involved when they have to respond to options. And on vacation we thought of backup plans if rain stole a beach day. Our vacation /learning-center-item/batna.htmlBATNA! Without knowing it, we practiced our negotiations skills on vacation!
- Take breaks.
We took breaks to relax – mini-vacations within a vacation. Relaxing gave us time to reflect and rethink our needs and priorities, or to calm friction from too much time with family and friends. Taking breaks during negotiations is equally beneficial. Time away allows issue clarification, a chance to reset the emotional climate, and check in with stakeholders. Taking a breather is rarely a step back; more often it provides a renewed vigor to work toward common goals.
We’re refreshed upon our return from vacation. And without realizing it, we honed our negotiation skills in the process. Be sure to apply those summer lesson to your next negotiation.
Like the Energizer Bunny, Washington’s debt ceiling negotiations keep on giving
By Thomas Wood
We tried to restrain ourselves from commenting in our negotiation workshops these last two months on the drama going on near our Washington, DC offices as the US President and Congress negotiated the US debt ceiling, with the President’s signature healthcare legislation – Obamacare – as the bargaining chip. Careful to stay neutral, but always alert to the strategy angles, we now have a few things to say, and they are all seeped in the fundamentals of negotiating. This Energizer Bunny just keeps on giving!
Negotiations to reopen the shuttered federal government and raise the nation’s debt ceiling were notable for one side’s insistence that it wasn’t negotiating at all. But despite the claims of President Obama and other Democratic leaders that they wouldn’t bargain over what they described as the basic functions of government, in the end they worked out a deal with their Republican adversaries. Most of us just don’t mean it when we say we won’t negotiate.
What other negotiating lessons can we learn from Washington’s latest fiscal crisis? At least five fundamentals.
1. The first is that preparation takes time. Although the partial shutdown of the federal government caught many Americans by surprise, defunding the government as a strategy for derailing health care reform was a plan in the making by an important faction of the Republican Party. President Obama, for his part, apparently decided in 2011—in the midst of another debt-ceiling confrontation—that he would never again negotiate over whether Washington should have enough borrowing authority to pay its bills. As it generally does, this early planning affected the outcome of the negotiations.
2. Another prominent feature is the power of deadlines. Deadlines often figure in negotiation—sometimes proposed to spur action in a cooperative way, sometimes wielded as a weapon by one side to intimidate the other.
Government funding was due to expire October 1 and the Treasury’s borrowing limit (the “debt ceiling”) would be reached on October 17. There was a difference between the two, however: the first was acknowledged by both parties to be justified and absolute, since it was the statutory end of the government’s fiscal year. The second was a less concrete estimate by the Treasury. Some Republicans probed this second deadline, suspecting it was arbitrary and changeable. Though the GOP was criticized for questioning the precision of the debt ceiling deadline because the consequences of default were so severe—regardless of exactly when it was triggered—in less drastic situations such probing of deadlines is entirely appropriate.
3. Third, our approaches can evolve as the negotiations evolve. Like most political confrontations, the strategy when this negotiation began was competitive. Each side felt it had right on its side and demanded the other yield. The Republicans, however, almost immediately shifted to what they presented as a compromise strategy, inviting the President and other Democrats to talk out their differences. But Democrats felt secure enough in their position—and viewed the GOP proposals as so unreasonable—that they didn’t feel pressured to go along. This is not usually a practical strategy for ongoing relationships such as the President and Congress must maintain, but such is the degree of political polarization in Washington today. Eventually, to break the weeks-long deadlock, Democrats joined in the compromise strategy, which seeks to give something to each side.
4. Fourth, positions are merely one way to satisfy interests. That’s why positions move in negotiations. The general wisdom is that the Republicans got much less than the President out of this compromise settlement, but some commentators think that viewpoint is confusing positions with interests. In fact, Republican positions changed over the course of the negotiation: beginning with a demand to defund or delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), then moving to other tax and spending issues, and eventually to policies disconnected from the budget.
But Republican interests remained the same throughout: a smaller, less intrusive federal government funded by lower taxes. Viewed that way, even though health care reform was only slightly modified, a central GOP interest was served by maintaining existing spending restraints in the temporary budget adopted as part of the deal.
5. And last, without a strong Plan B or BATNA, there is little likelihood of a big win. One reason President Obama could at least in the beginning maintain that he was not negotiating, and in the end get more of what he wanted, is that the other side began the process without apparently developing a strategic Negotiation Envelope. This is a planning tool that maps out wants (Most Desired Outcome), reasonable expectations (Goals), fallbacks (Least Acceptable Agreements) and “Plan B” (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement—BATNA). The most aggressive GOP leaders of the confrontation seemed to have identified a lot of Most Desired Outcomes, but not one Least Acceptable Agreement. And there was no viable BATNA, since the public would not put up indefinitely with a closed government or with the economic chaos caused by a national default.
Perhaps that’s the principle negotiating lesson of the federal fiscal crisis of 2013: set a reasonable goal and chart a path to get there. Whatever the merits of the Republicans’ politics and policies, their negotiating strategy may need a recalculation.