Negotiating under the light of a strong, weak, objective, subjective, and evolving BATNA – Deconstructing the BATNA myth part 2

This is post 2 of a series of 15 posts

What is BATNA?

Anybody who studies the BATNA concept deeply will end up seeing why it is so influential. Despite appearances to the contrary, gaining an accurate understanding of what BATNA is, is not such an easy task. Yes, the acronym stands for something straightforward – Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement. At least it seems straightforward. But is it as straightforward as it appears?

What does BATNA mean to you? To gain the full impact of what I am going to describe, I advise you to stop reading for a few minutes, take blank sheet of paper, and write out your understanding of BATNA in your own words. If you have read a book or two, you may be forgiven in thinking ‘Hey, this is straightforward. What’s your problem?’ Forgive me. If you attempt the exercise I suggest, read what you write, and compare it with what is contained in this and the next couple of pieces, you will experience the point I am attempting to make.

The exact nature of the BATNA appears to be a confluence of four things:

1) The reality facing all the parties at the negotiating table.

2) The courses of action the parties at the negotiating table will take if they don’t reach agreement.

3) The subjective perceptions of all the parties at the negotiating table.

4) The actions taken at the table and away from the table to shape those perceptions.

As I stated in my first post, I will attempt to develop a shared understanding between you, my reader, and I by quoting the words of those who teach the concept. It is only fair that I critique what its proponents say it is, not what I think it is or it ought to be. The next few pieces will contain extensive quotes from the various books and blog posts that I have referred to while preparing this series. If you feel inclined to, you may refer to the original works themselves.

From the creators of BATNA

I should naturally begin at the beginning. As I stated previously, BATNA was born between the covers of the most influential book on negotiation in the planet – ‘Getting To Yes – Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In’.

On page 100, the authors state ‘The reason you negotiate is to produce something better than the results you can obtain without negotiating.’

This is something I fully agree with. If I can get something relying on my own efforts alone, I don’t need to negotiate with another person/group in order to get it.

The authors go on to ask ‘What are those results? What is that alternative?’

Under the next sub-heading in the book is ‘The insecurity of an unknown BATNA’, the first sentence reads ‘If you have not thought carefully about what you will do if you fail to reach an agreement, you are negotiating with your eyes closed.’

Subsequently, under the subheading ‘Develop your BATNA’, the authors state

Vigorous exploration of what you will do if you do not reach agreement can greatly strengthen your hand. Attractive alternatives are not just sitting there waiting for you; you usually have to develop them. Generating BATNAs requires three distinct operations: (1) inventing a list of actions you might conceivably take if no agreement is reached; (2) improving some of the more promising ideas and converting them into practical alternatives; and (3) selecting, tentatively, the one alternative that seems best.’

A reflective reading of these sentences will highlight the problems in them.

Is it always possible to invent a list of actions one might conceivably take if no agreement is reached? Yes, it is and any serious person will do it. It’s the age-old advice of not putting all one’s eggs in one basket. One such action might be to wait and watch and stick with the status quo because no practical alternative exists, as yet. Another might be to have a series of ‘next action’ steps for one or more alternatives that do exist, with the intention of turning them into ‘practical alternatives’.

Here however, a problem emerges. Is it always in my power to convert these alternatives ‘into practical alternatives’ by my own efforts alone? No, it isn’t. Some or all of these alternatives may involve challenges and constraints that make it impossible for me to unilaterally convert them into ‘practical alternatives’.

It gets even more interesting to note that converting these courses of actions or objective realities into practical alternatives may involve other negotiations with a second person/group. Thus my BATNA to Negotiation 1 might be Negotiation 2 (which chronologically precedes or is conducted alongside Negotiation 1.) In that case, logically, the BATNA of Negotiation 1 becomes the agreement from Negotiation 2. What is my BATNA for negotiation 2? Negotiation 3, perhaps?

If Negotiation 1 has already commenced, Negotiation 2 is ostensibly conducted to ‘strengthen my hand’. If I reach an impasse in either of them, I may have to proceed onto Negotiation 3, using the better of the two of my anticipated agreement from Negotiations 1 and 2 as my BATNA for Negotiation 3 or using Negotiation 3 as my BATNA for the outcome I prefer if I must choose between an agreement I could reach from either of Negotiations 1 and 2.

Take a moment to imagine this as applied to either a negotiation you are already engaged in or one you may be engaged in, in the near future. How long can you sustain this chess game?

There’s more, yet.

The advice to select ‘the one alternative that seems the best’ begs the question ‘Best with respect to what?’ Not knowing the basis of comparison might seem to be harmless. Paper concepts, on paper, are harmless. In the real world, they can be deadly.

Is the ‘best alternative’ best with respect to a specific negotiated agreement (‘negotiated agreement A’ instead of ‘negotiated agreement B’) or a negotiated agreement as a whole? Is it with respect to the status quo, or an as yet not fully developed alternative? Is it with respect to an alternative that will prove too costly to maintain such that both or all parties eventually return to the negotiating table after having borne and inflicted the costs of a law suit, armed conflict, or a family feud?

You have just received an unceremonious welcome into the whirlwind of a BATNA-driven and BATNA-centric world.

In the next piece, I will turn to authorities who actually advocate negotiating in ways similar to what I have described. I refer to them as ‘authorities on deal-making’.

Please share your thoughts.


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A review of a successful negotiation

Below you will find a negotiation between me (Wim) and a colleague whom I will call “B’ from my own field of mental health. We are both therapists. As you read, ask if it looks like I got what I wanted from the negotiation, and if she got what she wanted? Please comment.

Wim to B:

I am now blogging here and invite you to take a look.

I hope you find it interesting, but I do admit that I have a problem. I don’t know much about your world and expertise. So here is what I propose: when you think of it, send me links to anything you have read that interests you. Since some form of negotiation is taking place anytime anyone asks someone for a decision, I promise I can relate anything you throw my way to the purpose of the blog – which is to help readers become more successful in their decisions and negotiations in all walks of life.

B: Hi Wim — I have the sense that conceptually I can’t get myself into your wheelhouse or way of thinking. For a few reasons, “negotiation” is not as compelling a concept for me as it is for you (“some form of negotiation is taking place anytime …”). Another difficult I have is that the purpose of your blog is framed very broadly (“to help readers become more successful … in all walks of life.”). For some this could have real energetic appeal for some. In my weeeee brain, however … I just can’t relate to the breadth. Motivated by your inviation, I’ve given this some thought. What I’ve come up with is: given the prioritizing required by factors largely outside of my control, the occasions when I can use the “anything you throw my way” kind of invitation, there has to be a pre-existing close relationship, of the type I have with a close colleague, friend, or family member. With these folks I can send them “anything” of high quality and feel that it will be welcomed, grist for their mill. That’s because I know the filter, the receipient, very well. It’s the intimacy that creates, is the condition for, the spark of connection in the midst of my demanding practice and the other things I choose to pay attention to. So this response to your good invitation is a stumbling rumination on my limitations.


Wim: Thanks for your response B. You understand my problem perfectly, I have a ‘breadth’ problem, thus my request for specfics from your particular  wheelhouse.  Negotiation is not a compelling concept for most-  I agree. And that is really interesting in and of itself, since  effort to reach agreements, or negotiation, is completely unavoidable in life. We just do it, like we breath, without thinking of it much. But when we have breathing problems, knowledge and principles of breathing become very important to us. 
Actually,  I think my email to you, your response, and my response back – would make an interesting blog post. What do you say? If you say no, that is perfectly fine. If you want to remain anonymous, that would be fine too

B: You can use my mundane post if you like.  Maybe the reason that I can’t find a purchase on your negotiation “project” is because I’m not much of a theoretician.  You may get a richer response from the likes of Nick Drury.  To me it’s as though your 2nd sentence below read, “And that is really interesting in and of itself, since  efforts to relate, or relating, is completely unavoidable in life. We just do it, like we breath, without thinking of it much. But when we have breathing problems, knowledge and principles of breathing become very important to us.”  One could substitute “relating” for “negotiating.”  The issue would still be hugely broad and the Venn diagram of the 2 concepts would still have only a small area of overlap. To my mind, try as you might to help the rest of us see a broader appeal, “negotiation” is strongly associated with the formally conflicted parties in business and legal arenas where, it seems to me, the main concepts don’t include ones like “deep understanding of the individual’s feelings and his / her experience of significant others” and “perception of the therapist as providing unconditional positive regard,” “therapeutic joining into family systems,” “mimesis,” “restructuring the resistance,” and the like.  Finally, when I think about my own understanding of goal of psychological work (There are many ways of defining the goal.  One form or another of “self actualization” would probably occur in many.) in contrast to the goal of business-type negotiations, I’m not convinced that there’s value to applying “negotiation” used in a union-owner conflict to a parent-child conflict.  To me it’s a variant of “the exceptions prove the rule.”

Best of luck in your conversations with more theoretically oriented folks, and best of luck as you press on!

Wim: I’d like to add that last response to the post, that ok? The post will end with this last reponse from you.

B: Sure, you can use that post.  Thanks for asking.  I imagine that the internet is littered with even lower blather of mine.  

For what it’s worth, for several years my favorite version on the goal of psychological helping (or “psychotherapy”) has been from Alan Siegel, Ph. D.  

“The purpose of therapy is to provide a relationship in which we can begin to face up to what we have most tried to avoid or forget, and to discover ways of facing our troubles without compromising too much of our real identity, our relationships with others, and the chance to fulfill our personal destinies.”

There are others, but for me this is pretty good.  The role of the therapeutic relationship didn’t need to be included here, as the focus was to define therapy and not to pen a shorthand for its strategy.  But as I’ve said poorly and repeatedly in this conversation with you, my view is that in therapy the core intrapersonal dynamic is not negotiation but attachment, attachment in the service of the client’s view of improvements or a shift in adaptation (viz. George Valliant, M. Scott Peck, & others).

Happy blogging to you!

William “Wim” Chase

Why you shouldn’t go into a negotiation with “trading” mindset

May 16, 2012 · Posted in Case Study, Negotiation · Comment 

I was recently reading a discussion on negotiation on LinkedIn and I read the following post from a person who claims to be a negotiation expert:

“At the risk of repeating some of these ideas, my experience would suggest, simply …. know your tradeables, only think about trading/negotiation things that you have agreed are of value to your client, and that you can readily provide as a feature of your solution/product. Have a pre-determined strategy for how high or how low you are prepared to negotiate on any value-based tradable. Stick to your plan! Know your walk-away points on each defined and specific tradable. Facilitate compromise on both sides of the negotiation table. Never terminally damage the relationship.”

Now I ask you, what is wrong with the above?

Here’s what I think. When you look at this paragraph from someone willing to share their expertise in negotiations the weakness and ineffectiveness jumps off the page at me. To this person NEGOTIATION is trading! Bargaining, barter, trade, this for that. So right off the bat he has a mindset that he must compromise in order to be successful. A first weak effort to manage the result by compromising.

Second, this person says, “…have a predetermined strategy for how high or how low you are prepared to negotiate/trade on any value based tradable.” Wow all I have to do is say no and he has to compromise or worse lose the deal and walk away.

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Build a mission and purpose for the engagement.
  2. Build a vision driven mindset.
  3. Never attempt to manage results with compromise, fall backs, and walk away points.
  4. Build agendas that are valid.

To your negotiation success in the real world!

Jim Camp, CEO
Camp Negotiation Institute
“Never lose another negotiation”


Negotiation Expert Predicts Loss of NBA Season “Eventually cooler heads will prevail.”

October 24, 2011 · Posted in Case Study, Conflict Resolution, Negotiation · 6 Comments 

Dublin, OH – (Oct  24, 2011) Negotiation coach, Jim Camp, predicts that in the wake of the latest  breakdown of the talks between National Basketball Association (NBA) owners and  players, the 2011-2012 season of games will be cancelled if they don’t change  their mindset.

“Thanks to the  conventional collective bargaining process, both sides are now mad at each other  and unable to arrive at an agreement because the “other side” is not doing what  both parties believe they were supposed to do. Conflict is being created, not  solved,” says Camp.

Based on twenty-five  years coaching his system in deals that often involve millions of dollars, Camp,  the author of “Start With No” and founder of the Camp Negotiation Institute,  says the current impasse is predictable with both sides and the public losing  out as the negotiators come to the table thinking they know how the other  side will and should respond to their demands. “When they don’t,  conflict and emotional stalemate are the result,” says Camp.

“Once the season is  lost and frustrations are lowered as both sides go home, all sides will realize  that it was stupid, if not crazy, not to arrive at an agreement,” says Camp.  “Cooler heads will prevail, but under the current circumstances that is not  possible.” The talks ended on  Friday, Oct 24, when the two parties could not agree on how to split the  league’s $4 billion in revenue. The league reportedly moved its proposal from  giving the players 47% of the revenue to 50%, while the players lowered their  demand from a 53% demand to share 52.5% “Despite or because  of federal mediation,” says Camp, “the two sides are at an impasse because they  are now mad at each other because neither reacted as predicted in  preparations.” “Based on the  science of neuroscience,” says Camp, “all negotiations are driven by emotion and  not by the popular belief that facts are the driving force.That is the failure  of bargaining.” Camp noted that the  similar impasse in Congress over the reduction of the national debt has resulted  in a failed “grand bargain” and the birth of a “super committee” that has been  charged with the responsibility of finding ways to meet this requirement. If  they fail, automatic cuts will be instituted.

“You can put money  on the fact they will not find any common ground of agreement even though the  current national debt exceeds $14 billion dollars, an amount equal to the entire  gross domestic product.  The same dynamics  apply to the NBA and the players, both of whom have hired lawyers who are paid  by the hour to argue,” said Camp. “When the season is cancelled, both sides will  eventually return to the negotiations with the players saying we made a mistake  here and the owners telling their lawyers to make a deal.” In 2010, Camp  created his institute to provide instructions to anyone who participates on how  to successfully negotiate, certifying them to become a Master Team Member®, a Master Team Lead® or a  Chief Negotiation Officer®.

The Institute maintains a website at _www.campnegotiationinstitute.com_  ( .

Camp’s unique  approach to negotiation has been featured on CNN,  CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune,  Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Inc., Cosmopolitan, and numerous daily  newspapers and radio shows.

Camp’s experiences  have been a long trip from having been an Air Force pilot for seven years. A  Vietnam War veteran, Camp has been a sales executive, and entrepreneur. Along  the way he evolved a unique understanding of successful negotiating. He holds a  degree from Ohio  State  University in Education, Biological  Sciences, and Health and Physical Education. He and his wife Patty have five  children and eight grandchildren, dividing their time between homes in  Dublin, Ohio  and Vero Beach,  Florida


# # # # #


Contact Jim  Camp @ 614-764-0213


Disseminated by The Caruba  Organization Alan Caruba @  973-763-6392

Client comments on “Start With No” Camp Negotiaton Institute Courses

October 24, 2011 · Posted in Camp System, Case Study, Credential Course · 4 Comments 

Let me start off with the following statement: I am 99% heart and 1% brains. Now that may be an exaggeration, but I really want to drive home the point about what is important to me in business and in life, that being, heart. Now heart is a great thing. You can look at numbers on a piece of paper that show you are losing and say, “I am going to turn this around!” I look at people around me that just complete their activities and tasks because it is their job, but lack in heart, and I don’t want them on my team. I believe that heart is the most important factor one can bring to the table in any environment, be it sports, business, friendship or family.

Having said that, having heart without having a system, checklist, or boundaries on myself can also be a huge detriment. It is easy for me to make decisions because in the moment it felt right or I just wanted to close the deal so I could be a superstar. Having heart without having the right activity and behavior goals or a solid mission and purpose can easily turn me into a boxer fighting aimlessly against the air. The will to win and the will to be the best means nothing if I don’t have a goal towards which I am working or a solid reason for my decisions.

The Camp Negotiation System has given me what I have needed to further my maturity in all aspects of my professional and personal life. From being able to make good decisions based upon a valid mission an purpose, to ridding myself of neediness and negotiation from a position of power, I am much more complete now than I have ever hoped to be. This system has given me something that puts me head and shoulders above my competitors and has given me a confidence in myself that causes me to believe deeply in the value I bring to my company.

When I am lost and do not know how to approach and project, great or small, I spend time developing my mission and purpose, and the actions to take next become crystal clear. When I am having a hard time moving a negotiation forward, I get inside the adversary’s world by asking questions that help them paint their pain, and I know what to do next.

When I am looking at my numbers for the quarter and focusing more on my objectives than on my actions, I create my activity and behavior goals, thus causing my stress to subside as I build belief in my plan.

Having all the charisma, charm, intelligence, and heart in the world is great, but not having a system in place that helps make use of all those qualities is similar to having a keg of gunpowder without a match…unlimited power without the proper fuel to use it.

I highly recommend the Camp Negotiation System

Rone Middler

Want to know what it’s like on the front line of a 10-figure negotiation?

September 22, 2011 · Posted in C-Level Executive, Case Study, Credential Course, Negotiation · 3 Comments 

After reading your new downloaded reports, listening to the audio book, “Start With No,” or even looking at our case studies at Camp Negotiation Institute (CNI), you may still be asking yourself: “Should I enroll?” or “Should I look at this when I have more time or when things get better with the economy?”

Well I certainly understand. We all have our ways of coming to decisions and taking action — and it can be hard to decide whether to make a financial commitment without knowing exactly what’s involved.

So how can I help you see exactly what is contained in the CNI courses and how you will benefit from them?

Well, I have a proposition for you. I have signed a five-year contract with Nightingale–Conant and in three weeks they will release my new program “The Power of No” in a six-CD set. It will retail for about $100 and is a really good overview of our course material.

So here is my proposal to you:

Below is an email from one of my clients that I think is about the very best description of what you can gain from The Camp Negotiation System. Read it and contact me before September 24th, and I’ll send you the “Power of No” CD set for half price–$50, plus shipping.

The email is sanitized (for confidentiality reasons), but it’s an eye-opener. The client is referring to what he experienced during a 10-figure negotiation; the largest in his company’s history! Here’s the email right here:

Email from a CNI Client about “The Big Deal”

Hi Jim,

My apologies for neglecting to write sooner but I just had to get this under my belt so I could tell you about it. I want to share an A________ story, but as you can tell from leaving our company name out and replacing it with just a letter I have to scrub it for confidentiality reasons.

So here goes.

I’ve been the lead in a series of negotiations that resulted in the largest single transaction in the history of S ___ & potentially A_____ as a whole. The specific details are too sensitive to share but I have some observations on my behavior and how your system served me.

Despite dealing with incredible fatigue, changing criteria (both internal & external), and insufficient resources, your system gave me direction, clarity, and confidence. At every step along the way, I either knew what to do or was able to determine what to do.

As I review my notes and time lines, I see numerous mistakes that I made, but my notes also reveal a principle that you shared from your flight training; that every decision can be followed by another.

My respected adversary (the customer) used tactics and ploys that I had never considered. He and his company are formidable and not accustomed to resistance. Were it not for your training and coaching I would have been lost and susceptible to all manner of compromise.

In fact, the opposite occurred. As I went deeper into the negotiations my vision became more clear and my resolve increased.

Now, I feel intellectually and emotionally validated.

I wrote and executed numerous checklists and although I take notes while executing Camp checklists (CLs), my structured log-writing remains a weakness. In retrospect, I missed budgets, problems, and pains that I wish I didn’t miss.

Those checklists varied in detail and prep time. Sometimes I invested 2 or more hours in my favorite word processor over a 2-day period of writing, editing, and questioning. Other times, it was 30 minutes on a notepad. And still other times it was 5 minutes on a whiteboard.

Given the scope of this opportunity, there were over 60 people at S__ who had a voice. Managing the internal dialogue was… frankly more difficult than the external dialogue. Sometimes I found myself in internal negotiations that I didn’t know I was in until it was too late.

Also, over 80% of the internal negotiations happened over email. It’s our culture and despite my desire to meet in person, this just isn’t the manner we use to get things done.

While authoring one of the final Camp CLs for an external conversation, I discovered some baggage that I began to carry as a result of how we communicate internally. Our manner is to explain & lecture & theorize. This tendency began to impair my ability to competently reverse, nurture, and ask an interrogative. Once I discovered this behavior, I was able to adjust and get back on track.

Another effect of your system was how it strengthened my own ability to say no. Not only am I able to invite no, but my becoming clear on what I wanted allowed me to say no. When the pressure to compromise was at its highest, I was able to suppress my need and say no.

Since the agreements were executed, I’ve heard a variety of praise ranging from the trivial note provided by my management of “good job,” to the meaningful sentiment provided by my peers of “you managed to remain true to your self in not allowing a deal of this size to change your principles or reduce your integrity.”

Thank you Jim for the training, virtual coaching, and personal encouragement.


My gift of $50 off to you

All you have to do is send me an email at and ask to pre-order “The Power of No” CD set, and I will contact you and send it to you for HALF the retail price.

I’m confident that once you listen to the “Power of No” overview, you will want to enroll in a CNI course. But because you’ve recently expressed an interest in our programs, I’m willing to go even further for you.

Sign up for the Camp Negotiation Team Member Credential Courses within 30 days of ordering “The Power of No, ” and I’ll give you $1,500 off the price of the courses. That’s a $4,875 value for only $3,375 — and we’ll even finance it for you if you need to.

I know things are tough out there with the economy, which is why I want to extend this exclusive offer to you — but I need you to **email me before September 24, 2011 to qualify**. We only have room for a few students at this price.

So drop me an email at to get the overview “The Power of No” for 2/3 price and secure your deep CNI course discount. We can only hold this open to you for a few more days (until September 24th), so let me know soon.

All the best

P.S. At CNI we are helping people change their stars, and I want you to take the world by storm—so contact me today!