The Leading Edge - Hillary, It's Time to BATNA Down the Hatches*

Show me someone who hasn't thought through a BATNA
(Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) and I'll show you Hillary Clinton.

BATNA is a term first developed by negotiation researchers Roger Fisher and Bill Ury of the Harvard Program on Negotiation (PON). When people in a negotiation or campaign for the Presidential nomination have not thought through a contingency plan if their first one fails, they tend to become more desperate and intransigent on their first position.

The reason people don't let go of their obsessive hold on a losing outcome (or some would say its obsessive hold on them) is that doing so threatens to throw them into a free fall leading to a dark black hole that feels bottomless.

It is like a death. And like a death one needs to go through the stages that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined in her seminal work: On Death and Dying.

Those stages are:

  1. Denial – "I won't accept it, because I can't accept it, because I don't what else I'll do if this fails."
  2. Anger – "I will fight tooth and nail against anyone who tries to make me accept it, because I will be too lost if this doesn't happen."
  3. Bargaining – "Okay, I'm not going to be President, but how about Vice President or something so I don't have to face having nothing."
  4. Despair – "It's all real. It's not a bad dream. I AM lost and don't feel like doing anything else. Everybody, just leave me alone."
  5. Acceptance – "Okay, I guess I don't have nothing. I still have my family, I still have people who believed in me, I still have a job in the Senate, I can still make a difference."

It's time for someone to say strongly, firmly and lovingly to Hillary: "Your campaign is over, your life is not over. You have the opportunity now for poise and graciousness, or for bitterness and despair and it's up to you to choose which one."

Obama V. Clinton: The Smiles Have It!

* I am indebted to Ken McLeod, Executive Director of McLeod & Associates for assistance with this piece. 

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  • Kelly Jad'on


    All of life is about negotiation. In the beginning, we negotiate with our parents, with our teachers, with our spouse, with our boss. "I'll do something, and in return, you'll get something." Perhaps Hillary Clinton is negotiating for herself a stronger position. As of this morning, the media says she may stay in the race until the convention.

  • Jo Nelgadde

    Hi Mark, I agree that people need to accept at a certain point in time to call it quits and cut their losses (esp. given a trading analogy :-)) but I've got 2 points on that -
    1) I'm not sure whether we can all but call it over for Hillary (ok mathematically she can't win the delegate count but theoretically she can prevent Obama from winning the delegate count too which will shift power to superdelegates among which she still stands a chance, although that too appears to be fading with the increasing number of 'shifters'.)
    2) I'm wondering if Hillary has a I'll-be-president-or-nothing-at-all view. Nothing at all implying she's not interested in being second to Obama. If that's her game plan she's not going to fall into any of the 5 categories you've outlined but more of I'm-just-going-to-stick-to-my-plan. From what I've seen and read of her this campaign, she's a fighter so she's going to fight until it's crystal clear that she should throw in her towel. Then she will start cutting whatever losses she can still cut. In that case, it'll be interesting to see what her back-up plan is. In any event, she'll definitely be useful to have around, given her experience.

  • Mark Goulston

    Thank you for your astute explanation of the specific application of BATNA. It may well be that Clinton is in the race to win, however I have observed that with many people who have trouble calling it quits and cutting their losses, it if often because they don't have a fall back position and with all their eggs in one basket, they often become desperate when it appears that it will not work out for them. One test as to whether a person is just in it to win vs. in it desperately because they don't have a back up plan is their reaction after the loss. If they are just in it to win, the period of disappointment is intense, but short lived and then they get back on track. If however they are in it because they don't have a contingency plan, they period of disappointment extends into a depression and a prolonged funk if not a full blown period of despondency. I hope for Hillary's sake, you are correct and I am wrong and if she should lose that her disappointment is short-lived and she is able to resume some useful work to use her considerable talents and skills to help our country.

  • Jo Nelgadde

    Pardon me saying so, but this whole analogy is fundamentally flawed. To begin with, BATNA, as developed by Fisher and Ury was evolved under negotiation theory. It's the course of action taken by a party when a negotiation fails and an agreement can't be reached. The thing is that, the Presidential campaign is not a negotiation. It's a competition where the best man/woman wins. It can be argued that the Convention is a negotiation but the campaign itself ain't a negotiation. Candidates should enter to win, nothing less. If it's just a negotiation, so much money needn't be wasted and they can just discuss at a table. Given that, Clinton does not need any BATNA or need to explain to anyone why she's still in this. It's self-explanatory - she's in it to win. If it comes down to the wire - i.e. the Convention, then it's time she came up with a BATNA.