Ever had a pile of earth dumped on you by a JCB driver working for the local government? In Season 2 of the US show Parks and Recreation, this is exactly what happens to citizen Andy Dwyer after a member of the parks and recreation department attempts to fill-in a pit. Ouch!
After this horrific accident, Andy of course is rushed to hospital. His lawyer estimates damages to amount to around $100,000. However, all Andy wants is to impress his ex-girlfriend Anne, who is working with the Parks department to get the pit filled in and converted into a park (something that they had previously been struggling to accomplish). Therefore, he and department member Leslie Knope hatch a devious negation plan in the form of a settlement agreement with the government lawyer, which would help to fast track the project and (he hopes) impress Anne.
Each side of a negotiation will try to maximise their outcomes at the other’s expense (Aquino, 1998). Andy has a strong case to sue. If he were to take the case to court, he would likely be able to win $100,000. This is his best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) and the government lawyer knows this. Alternatives are very important in negotiations. Geddes (2002) explains that they are too often afterthoughts, so can’t offer comparisons to negotiated offers, but when they are used BATNAs provide strategic and emotional support for an individual’s negotiation. The individual who has the most BATNAs is less reliant on the negotiation, so possess more power in the situation and often have better outcomes (Kim, 2005). In this case, the alternative is favourable to Andy, but costly for the government, so the lawyer would be more motivated to make a settlement. As part of this settlement, Andy asks for the new park, which has an estimated cost of $35,000. Whilst this is expensive, it is less costly than the alternative by such a considerable margin that it would be foolish for the lawyer to not accept. The lawyer has little alternatives and they both know this, giving Andy all the power in the negotiation and more likely to get what he wants. Andy also adds another demand, which is ridiculous and immediately dismissed, which may add to the reasons why the lawyer so easily accepted Andy’s alternate offer and getting the pit filled in immediately.
Whilst this isn’t the best method to win over a woman’s heart, it certainly helped to get things done. So if you want something, make sure you have good alternatives already in place and it might help you hit the jackpot.
Aquino, K. (1998). The effects of ethical climate and the availability of alternatives on the use of deception during negotiation. International Journal of Conflict Management, 9, 195-217.
Geddes, D. (2002). It’s better with a BATNA: The Flourtown Farms exercise. International Journal of Conflict Management, 13, 401-408.
Kim, P. H. (2005). Choosing the path to bargaining power: An empirical comparison of BATNAs and contributions in negotiation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 373-381.