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BATNA and WATNA

I was recently in a sticky social situation, being asked to do something that I’m not comfortable doing or risk losing out on an opportunity.  (Think of it like being told you have to swim in a bathtub full of crickets or lose your spot in your weekly Bunco game, except there was no bathtub, crickets, or Bunco.)

I felt ill about the decision and then decided that even though Morra Aaron-Mele’s book, Hiding in the Bathroom, is about navigating the workplace as an introvert, social situations were also sort of a negotiation.  So I flipped to the chapter on negotiations to see if there was anything in there I could use and kept re-reading the section on BATNA.

BATNA stands for best alternative to a negotiated agreement.  So the next best thing if the negotiation doesn’t succeed.  What will I be left with, and do I actually like that thing just as much as the thing I’m negotiating.  This is important to know because you shouldn’t accept something worse than your BATNA.  You may already have something in-hand or close to in-hand that you like as much as or more than the thing you’re negotiating for.  Get it?  Because we sometimes get stuck in the thrill of the negotiation and don’t really consider what we actually want.  It’s about moving away from being fueled by the desire to win and instead focusing on getting what I want.

It resonated with me because… I am someone who doesn’t really consider her BATNA very often.  Plan B’s, yes, but I consider Plan B’s to be the thing that happens because Plan A didn’t happen.  And that is very different from BATNA.  BATNA is about making the conscious choice to remove yourself from a negotiation, to move yourself towards something else BEFORE it has been decided for you.  It’s the most powerful space in a negotiation because you’re willing to walk away.  You acknowledge there is something else that is different but equally good, and you’re not willing to settle on winning the negotiation by actually losing your happiness (or money or something else) in the process.

Has there ever been an idea more applicable to negotiating family building?  Negotiating with your body or with an adoption agency or with a sperm bank?  Negotiating with doctors or your partner or your family or society?  How brave is it to pull back as you negotiate that world and make a real decision.  What is my family building BATNA?  What am I willing to negotiate away because I get something better in return?  What am I not willing to part with because it would leave me in a worse spot?

WATNA is the opposite — the worst alternative to a negotiated agreement.  The worst that can happen if you lose the negotiation.  Returning to my situation, I looked at the worst case scenario and went pretty far down that rabbit hole.  But if I’m being honest and I pause in a realistic space instead of entertaining one of the unlikely, doomsday scenarios I found down the rabbit hole, my worst isn’t that bad.  In fact, it has a lot of good things, too.

The point of BATNA and WATNA is not just to define in your mind what you want.  It’s to make yourself an equal partner in a negotiation*.  It’s recognizing your power by setting your limits.  And my limits don’t include swimming in bathtubs with crickets.  Not even for a weekly Bunco game.  Defining that in my mind and realizing I was willing to walk away because I had something else equally good let me get a good night’s sleep.

I hope this helps you get a good night’s sleep, too.

* What also helped was taking a closer look at what each of us brought to the table.  I brought a batch of my chocolate chip cookies to the game each week, and everyone raved about them.  It became a joke when I walked into the house and everyone would shout, “The cookies are here!”  Whereas they brought the dice and folding tables.  So when you look at it that way, they had more to lose.  Yes, there are other desserts, but without me, they didn’t have my chocolate chip cookies.  Whereas they brought the bunco.  I can get bunco elsewhere — there are a zillion weekly games in the area — but they cannot get my cookies elsewhere.  Maybe they don’t care about my cookies and don’t mind losing them because they’re fine with Shirley’s snickerdoodles, so I’m not saying that my cookies are worth more.  But they sort of are because one side has something unique and the other side has something that is technically obtainable elsewhere.  Anyway, this framing also helped me consider myself an equal partner who could set limits and knew what would happen next if I walked away.

7 comments

1 Battynurse { 12.06.17 at 8:56 am }

So living in Texas I now totally get your fear of them. They are nasty awful creepy things and they’re HUGE!
That said, using this idea to resolve things is kind of what my therapist had been trying to get me to do in a lot of scenarios. Some days I can do it and some days I just jump down the rabbit hole head first.

2 Cristy { 12.06.17 at 9:38 am }

Damn, this post came into my life literally at the perfect time. There’s a job ad that just went up that I’m very interested in, but… it’s within the same organization that just ended my contract. So applying is politically fueled and I’ve been advised to reach out to the director of this new venture to discuss my situation and any potential application.

So BATNA and WATNA. Worst case scenario is I’m told not to apply, meaning I’m still job hunting. As terrifying as that seems, I need to also be mindful of what I do want, which I have been neglecting. So thank you. Because that’s just as important.

3 Sharon { 12.06.17 at 12:34 pm }

I have never heard for the terms “BATNA” or “WATNA” but I definitely used this type of decision-making in our family-building. Conceiving using the method we used would never have been my first choice, but my only real end goal was to be a parent. . . so I was willing to take the path that lead to that goal.

4 Working mom of 2 { 12.07.17 at 10:24 am }

Ha, ADR terms in the context of family building. Problem is for me (and probably most), BATNA is having kids. And unlike a financial negotiation, our ability to do so has nothing to do with negotiation by us or an opposing side.

5 marieke { 12.07.17 at 10:37 am }

for your daughter: https://nos.nl/artikel/2206352-prinses-amalia-viert-veertiende-verjaardag.html Our crownprincess has her birthday today. And her parents wentscubadiving couple of weeks ago and I think the pictures are so funny 😉

6 Lori Lavender Luz { 12.08.17 at 2:21 pm }

I think I need to know more about BATNA and WATNA, how to figure out what they are to me. I’m all about owning my power during negotiation.

Interesting aspect about using it with infertility. Maybe other parenting issues, too.

7 Queenie { 12.11.17 at 2:55 am }

I love these ideas. Putting labels on them really makes you slow down and consider things that you might otherwise gloss over. It’s a really helpful framing for thinking about a work situation that is ongoing, so thank you.

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