OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Limits to Agreement: Better Alternatives

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The success of negotiation is limited by a number of factors. One of these is the presence of better alternatives to the expected negotiated agreement. In their best-selling book, Getting to Yes, (1981) Roger Fisher and William Ury developed the idea of "BATNA," which stands for "Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement." Fisher and Ury counsel all negotiators to know--and when possible improve--their BATNA. In order to know whether or not to accept a proposed settlement obtained through negotiation, you must know whether or not you can get a better outcome in some other way. If the negotiated agreement is better than your "best alternative," you should take it. If it is not as good as your BATNA, however, you should either go back to the negotiating table to try again, or leave the table to pursue your other option(s).

Since the disputants with the best BATNAs have the best negotiating position, it is important to improve your BATNA whenever possible. Good negotiators know when their opponent is desperate for an agreement. When that occurs, they will demand much more, knowing their opponent will have to give in. If the opponent apparently has many options outside of negotiation, however, they are likely to get many more concessions, in an effort to keep them at the negotiating table. Thus making your BATNA as strong as possible before negotiating, and then making that BATNA known to your opponent will strengthen your negotiating position.

Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess have adapted the concept of BATNA slightly to emphasize what they call "EATNAs--"estimated alternatives to a negotiated agreement" instead of "best alternatives." Even when disputants do not have good options outside of negotiations, they often think they do. (For example, both sides may think that they can prevail in a political, economic, or military struggle, even when one side is clearly weaker, or when the relative strengths are so balanced that the outcome is very uncertain.) Yet, perceptions are all that matter. If a disputant thinks that he or she has a better option, she will, most likely, pursue that option, even if it is not as good as she thinks it is.

The allure of the EATNA often leads to last-minute breakdowns in negotiations. Disputants can negotiate for months or even years, finally developing an agreement that they think is acceptable to all. But then at the end, all the parties must take a hard look at the final outcome and decide "is this better than all of my alternatives?" Only if all the parties say "yes," can the agreement be finalized. If just one party changes his or her mind, the agreement will break down. Thus knowing one's own and one's opponent's EATNAs is critical to successful negotiation.


Links to More Information about BATNA and EATNA limits:

Roger Fisher and William Ury--Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
This is a summary of the book in which the concept of BATNA was first introduced.
William McCarthy--The Role of Power and Principle in Getting to Yes
A critique of Getting to Yes, this article challenges Fisher and Ury's use of BATNA as a substitute for power.
David Lax and James Sebenius--The Power of Alternatives or the Limits to Negotiation
This article discusses the importance of BATNAs to the success and failure of negotiations.
William Zartman and Saadia Touval -- International Mediation in the Post-Cold War Era
This is a theoretical discussion about the use of international mediation which discusses (among other things) why and when parties agree to negotiate and when they do not. Perceptions of EATNAs (though they don't use that term) is one of the most important factors discussed.


Links to Possible Treatments for this Problem:

Reality Testing

Negotiation Loopback



Links to Related Problems:

Requests to Abandon Power Options as a Precondition to Negotiation

Overlooking Ripe Moments for Negotiation

Scale-Up Problem

Refusal to Negotiate

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