Using Your BATNA: Bruce Patton and William Ury Discuss the ‘Fiscal Cliff’

By — on / BATNA


A standoff between Democrat President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans in 2012 focused attention on the negotiation styles employed by the two parties as they sought to secure their interests while also working toward the resolution of a budgetary battle.

Writing for NPR, Liz Halloran interviewed Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School co-founders William Ury and Bruce Patton to discuss the negotiations in 2012 between the President and Republicans and how the pursuit of a distributive, rather than integrative, negotiation solution destroys value for the American public, the third party to these tense talks.

“These negotiations are looking like classic ‘positional bargaining’ brinksmanship,” said Patton.

Value Creation in Negotiation

Bruce Patton explained that the positional bargaining approach to negotiation “tends to promote very little creativity in reaching resolution, and the expectation of late night, last minute compromises.”

His colleague William Ury added, “perhaps the most important [thing] in reaching resolution between the two sides… is consideration of the ‘third side’ or those most affected by the outcome.”

In this case, the extent to which the President and the GOP had engaged with the ‘third side’ varied wildly in style and method.

Engaging the Third Side

While President Obama had no problem engaging with the ‘third side’ through social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, Republicans largely failed to capitalize on this innovative trend in voter outreach.

Polling indicated the President’s rigorous social media engagement had a positive effect for him, with many suggesting that if the negotiations failed, the blame would largely be placed on the Republicans rather than on the Democrats and Barack Obama.

BATNA and Leverage in Negotiations

When thinking about negotiations strategically, each side should be aware of her BATNA or best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Knowledge of one’s BATNA prior to a negotiation allows the skilled negotiator to leverage her position at the bargaining table.

Liz Halloran believed that President Obama’s BATNA was that the Bush tax cuts would expire and could potentially introduce legislation to roll back taxes on the middle class next year.

Additionally, she wrote, the BATNA for Republicans was to hope that President Obama and Democrats shouldered the blame for driving the country over the ‘fiscal cliff.’

William Ury stated that, “the advantages of negotiation, and negotiating now, far outweigh the BATNA.” Further, Ury argued that any win would be a ‘pyrrhic’ victory because of the myriad of problems facing both the Congress and the President in the following months.

On New Year’s Day in 2013, the Senate agreed to raise taxes on those who earned more than $450,000 per year.

Claim your FREE copy: BATNA Basics

Discover how to unleash your power at the bargaining table in this free special report, BATNA Basics: Boost Your Power at the Bargaining Table, from Harvard Law School.

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
501 Pound Hall
1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
tel 1-800-391-8629
tel (if calling from outside the U.S.) +1-301-528-2676
fax 617-495-7818