What is Your Best Alternative?

Negotiation 101 tells us that we must develop a clear understanding of what our best alternative is to negotiating an agreement (“BATNA”) in advance of the negotiation in case the impasse cannot be overcome. A negotiator’s BATNA is the course of action or, if you like, the path he/she will take if a resolution to the impasse cannot be reached through direct negotiation.

But just how does one go about developing their BATNA, or their Plan B, as I like to call it? How does one then evaluate their BATNA? All too often I see parties who cannot break an impasse wind up in court simply because they hadn’t done the homework up front to determine accurately what their best alternative is.

You can best develop Plan B by enlisting the support of trusted colleagues to brainstorm the options available to you should the agreement you want not be reached. Whilst the obvious alternatives are to go to court, do nothing or “roll over” and accept the other party’s demands, none of those alternatives are particularly satisfying. However with some lateral thinking amongst like-minded people who seek to “expand the pie” rather than distribute an existing piece you can often develop innovative alternatives that are far superior to the default position.

Once you have exhausted the alternatives available through group brainstorming then its advisable to carry out a SWOT analysis on each of the options agreed and then rank them in order of priority using a simple priority-ranking tool. An example of a simple priority tool in action is to have each person in the brainstorming group allocated a total of 100 points with the instructions to allocate the points to the various alternatives in a manner which sees the individuals most valued alternatives given the highest points and the least points to the least valuable alternative. Once you know the alternative with the most points from the entire brainstorming group you know what is the most valuable alternative. This is your BATNA – or Plan B.

Recently I mediated a dispute between a partner of a large accountancy firm and the firm’s remaining partners. As a partner for some 12 years the accountant was discouraged to learn that the remaining partners wanted him ‘moved on’ for a variety of reasons. The aggrieved partner had a mortgage, private school fees and despite his feelings of resentment towards the other partners for not appreciating his work wanted to stay on for fear of not being able to meet his financial commitments elsewhere. The parties had tried to negotiate a solution through direct negotiation however things had reached an impasse and so Wisdom was called upon to help the parties try and find a solution.

During the private session with the aggrieved partner I was staggered to learn that the only alternative he had considered if the remaining partnership would not provide him significant financial compensation was to “sue the bastards” for wrongful dissolution of the partnership.  He had neglected to consider and evaluate other options. It was clear his needs were financial security and yet he had not stopped to consider how those needs might be meet beyond simply litigation. His Plan B was hastily conceived. The firm’s remaining partners was also devoid of lateral thinking and their BATNA was to simply gear up for a strong defence of the impending court case.

Had both parties undergone a process similar to that mentioned earlier then their BATNA’s might well have included a course of action quite different to litigation.

Fortunately through the process of mediation the parties were able to undertake an evaluation of other options and ultimately secure a deal which saw the aggrieved partner leave the firm peacefully in the knowledge he had the unfettered right to contact and service those clients of the firm he had previously served – without restraint. His needs in securing long-term financial security were met. The remaining partners were able to avoid a potential costly drawn out litigation battle and possible damages award against them whilst also maintaining the right to market to the same list of clients.


Tony Dempsey

Anthony Dempsey began his career specialising in banking litigation with national law firm Clayton Utz in 1990. Tony was the founding President and CEO of the Rugby Union Player’s Association (‘RUPA’) in 1995. He negotiated and secured on behalf of its members (the Wallabies and Super Rugby players) in 1997, 2001… MORE >

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