When people are entrenched in their own views, they often view the likely outcome of a dispute to be clearly in their favor and that the other party will be outed as a terrible villain. Of course, sometimes they fail to see that the other party has the same view of the likely outcome, only with the victor and villain reversed. Reality is often somewhere in the middle.
A technique mediators often use to help parties consider the various outcomes is to have them ponder the following:
BATNA – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – BATNA is the sunshine and kittens version of an agreement. A BATNA is the best possible outcome a party has in mind. Considering a BATNA means that each party thinks about what their winning scenario looks like.
MLATNA – Most Likely Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – MLATNA is the middle ground version of an agreement. A MLATNA is the best estimate reality check outcome. Considering a MLATNA means that each party thinks about what a neutral decision maker will most likely decide. This can be difficult for people entrenched in their own views.
WATNA – Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – WATNA is the nuclear version of an agreement. A WATNA is the worst possible outcome a party has in mind. Considering a WATNA means that each party thinks about what their losing scenario looks like.
When considering the BATNA, MLATNA, and WATNAs, each party should consider what alternative paths exist if a party walks away from mediation. There may be more than one path – going to court, walking away from a particular situation, seeking a new job, etc. – and each path has its own BATNA, MLATNA, and WATNA.
Understanding that there is a range of outcomes can sometimes nudge parties to consider the consequences if they choose to walk away from a mediation or negotiation to take their chances with someone else or something else (like an arbitrator, agency, or court). It can also make parties reflect on the power they have at the negotiation table that will be relinquished if the matter proceeds to a hearing of some kind.
Outside of mediation and/or legal settings, considering the BATNA, MLATNA, and WATNA for any conflict can often help provide perspective.