I highly recommend the book The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes by William Ury. (I’ve linked to the paperback edition on Amazon.) I won’t try to review the whole book right now. I just want to mention one concept that this book highlights that is crucial to negotiation. Namely, the importance of having a workable “Plan B”.
In the lingo of negotiation, and in the previous two books Ury has written, Plan B is the same as the BATNA: Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. Prior to a negotiation, each party should consider what is their best alternative in the event the negotiation fails. If a negotiated settlement offers less than the BATNA, then choose the BATNA. In other words, your BATNA is your walk-away point in a negotiation. Unless a party knows their BATNA, they don’t know when to walk away from the negotiation table.
Your “Plan B” may not be what you would voluntarily choose, if you had a choice. For instance, a “Plan B” for a manager negotiating a supplier agreement may be that he will lose a sale, or even that his company might go bankrupt if that were the company’s sole source of income. The “Plan B” for a woman in an abusive marriage may be to leave her husband, even if she has no prospects for living on her own and must go stay in a shelter for battered women. The “Plan B” for an employee who cannot work requested hours may be to lose his job. These “Plan B” scenarios don’t leave the person in a good position.
If a person’s “Plan B” is not an acceptable option, it makes it more difficult to walk away from a negotation. As a result, the person loses power in the negotiation: because of their lack of alternatives, they are unable to negotiate for what they truly need and perhaps must accept terms which are less than ideal.
On the other hand, the Plan B may be much better than this. Perhaps the “worst case scenario” isn’t so bad after all. Jenny Sanford, for instance, wife of the adulterous Governor Mark Sanford, has independent means. Because of the strength of her position, her “Plan B” is simply to leave behind the cheating spouse. Having a strong “Plan B” is crucial to having a strong bargaining position for life.
In my opinion, it’s not enough simply to know what your options are. Knowledge is simply the first step. After you ascertain what your options are — what’s your “Plan B,” — you need to decide if those options are things you can live with. If then answer is “no” — if your “Plan B” isn’t appealing — then you need to work on improving your options.
How can you improve the other options available to you, which you may need to exercise if negotiation doesn’t work? That requires development of a long term strategy.
In the examples above, the Manager may wish to cultivate other customers. The wife may wish to pursue additional education or career training. The employee may wish to ask for assistance in meeting demands at home or for help from other employees to make his job more reasonable. No matter what the circumstance — whether dealing with the local auto mechanic, with an unruly teenager, or with the leader of a nation on the verge of war — it’s always a good idea not only to have thought out, but to have consciously worked on creation of an acceptable “Plan B”.
If you are in conflict, it may be wise to avoid bringing that conflict to a head until after you’ve worked a few months on improving your Plan B. Doing so will increase your negotiating power, and it will enable you to walk away with less damage and recover more readily if the negotiation fails.
This leads me to ask, “What is YOUR personal ‘Plan B’?” This question is relevant to any issue or area of your life in which you are hoping to have some choice. If your falllback plan is not something you find appealing, then you need to work on making it more palatable. It’s much better to be comparing two good options than two bad ones!
So now, here’s your homework: (1) Ascertain what your fallback options are; and (2) if they’re not acceptable, develop and implement a strategy that will improve your “Plan B”.
I urge you, take time today to reassess and reposition, to answer the question: What concrete measures need to be taken in order to improve my personal “Plan B” list of options? Set a goal, figure out what it takes to get there, assess whether the goal is realistic, and then get to work to implement the steps in your plan!
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