Sunday, January 3, 2010

What's Your Personal "Plan B"?

I'm reading the book The Power of a Postive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, by William Ury.  I won't try to review the whole book right now.  I just want to mention one concept that struck me yesterday as I was reading.  That is, 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.  Unless a party knows their BATNA, they don't know when to walk away from the negotiation table. 

Your "Plan B" may not be something 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.  Therefore, the person loses power in a relationship; they are unable to negotiate for what they truly need and must accept a "second best" existence. 

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. 

What struck me about my reading yesterday was not the simple fact that one must know what "Plan B" is.  No, it was a different observation.  It's quite simple:  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, so they will be more palatable to you if negotiation doesn't work and they must be exercised?  In the examples above, the Manager may wish to cultivate other customers.  The wife may wish to pursue 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". 

This leads me to ask, in general, "What is YOUR personal 'Plan B'?"  If it's not something you find acceptable as a fallback, then you need to work on making it more palatable.  The New Year is a great time 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?  


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