Musings + Essays

BATNAs and Elbow Room.

By: Jen Shoop

I will never forget when Mr. Magpie explained the concept of a “BATNA” to me — a negotiating acronym for “Best Alternative to No Agreement.” If a deal goes south, and the parties cannot agree to the terms, what is the most appealing alternative? The answer can take on a range of shapes: find a new buyer/seller, arbitrate in some way, arrest all negotiations and resume the status quo, etc. His explanation of the concept was business-oriented, strategic, but I thought to myself: “So that’s what I’ve been doing my entire life — identifying BATNAs.”

What I mean is this: well prior to any hint of foulplay or disruption, I not only imagine plans b, c, and d but all the way through x, y, and z and probably a2, b2, c2, d2, etc. When we discovered that someone close to us had contracted COVID a few months ago, within minutes, I was spiraling into imaginary scenarios in which any member of my household also tested positive, and defining phantom protocols, and contemplating whether we’d need to cancel travel plans and who we’d need to contact and what I might say to those people. I know contingency planning is not the same thing as identifying BATNAs, but they stem from the same impulse: finding the exits, imagining conclusions that aren’t ruinous, feeling vaguely prepared for the unknown. Even when confronted with innocuous situations like dinner plans, I find it irresistible to walk through fictional logistical snafus and how we might work through them, or not — traffic, postponed reservations, slow service, babysitter curfews, etc. My Dad is much the same way. “I’m sorry you inherited my sickness,” he will tell me, thumbing through elaborate notes he’s made on whatever project or travel plans or inventory we’re working through. That’s where I’m comfortable: itemizing, strategizing, nailing things down that don’t necessarily need to be nailed down.

Does everyone do this? Am I peculiarly saddled, as my father intimates? Is it a family thing? I feel that I’ve been this way my entire life, but perhaps entrepreneurship — that beast in which anything that can go wrong will — really drew it out of me?

I will say this: earlier this summer, I surprised myself. In another instance in which someone close to us tested positive for COVID, rather than fling myself into a grid of possible outcomes, I suspended myself. I actually conjured the image of a gate coming down. “The only thing you’re going to focus on right now is the next step.” In this case, that meant procuring tests for everyone in the house and waiting for the results. Every time my mind would crawl around a new corner, or grope for the keys to the gate, I’d issue a firm shove: “Nope. Just focus on the next thing.”

Perhaps this scenario was possible because COVID protocols and procedures are so ingrained in us that they’re no longer the scary mess they used to be. Still, if someone had tested positive, we would be back to the long and bedraggling stretch of childcare-less weeks we endured before Christmas this past year, and — yikes. But my will during the fire drill startled me. It occurred to me that perhaps I have been letting anxieties drive the cart a little too fast these past many years, and that it is possible to issue stern correction and adjust the pace if not entirely stop the wheels.

Since this incident, I find myself more self-conscious about my BATNA-oriented meanderings. “Nope,” I’ll say to myself. “Just focus on the next thing.” It doesn’t always work. In fact, it almost never works at 3 a.m., when I am a corkscrew of sheets and stress. But give me a fresh morning and the courage that rises with it and I am capable of a little more elbow room than I ever remember having.


+Are you a good negotiator?

+The only way out is through.

+Think, again, of the howling wolves.

Shopping Break.

+Just ordered myself this skincare grade glycolic acid body lotion after reading great reviews about how it banishes bumps, evens skin tone, etc. Will report back!

+Excuse me — this crochet dress is $15 and I LOVE THE COLORS. Also love this mini (also under $20) from the same brand and this $21 one too — reminds me in cut of something by Saloni?

+Andale! Marysia workout dresses on sale for under $120 here and here.

+Speaking of tennis: just bought some new tennis gear for Mr. Magpie, availing myself of Lacoste’s semi-annual sale, including this performance polo and this one, these shorts, and this visor. I also bought him a few pieces from Nike, including this dri-fit polo and these shorts (<<Mr. Magpie already has a few pairs of these and loves this exact style in the 7″. He first read about it somewhere else as the best shorts for tennis, and I think he agrees!)

+While at Lacoste: children’s polos in great colors for only $26!

+Loose fit maxi to throw on over a suit or putz around the house in.

+I think I need these striped shorts.

+Cute gingham head-to-toe moment. (More gingham!)

+Fun themed cups for a party.

+Price break on the GOAT serum.

+OO this maxi skirt – on sale plus an extra 15% off with code EXTRA15! Check out the whole sale section here. This floral top would be so cute under white overalls!

+Adore this dramatic midi. (Right at home with this roundup of dresses without smocking or puffed sleeves!)

+Love the color and cut of these trousers.

+ICYMI: LOVE this Loewe-esque straw bag.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

8 thoughts on “BATNAs and Elbow Room.

  1. I am 100% like this, too, in all situations (high-stakes, low-stakes, or in between!) I appreciate Jess’s note about reframing this tendency as a chess-like way to strategize, rather than falling prey to the rabbit holes or spirals that seem to materialize whenever I’m thinking of ALL the possible scenarios.

    Love those pieces from Apiece Apart and St. Agni!


  2. I am like this as well, but I’ve been -trying- to retrain my brain not to think of all of the possible scenarios (often in a negative mind-tornado kind of way) but to think more in terms of strategy, like a chess game. When I’m confronted with a situation (or like you, confronted with the possibility of being confronted by a situation!) I can move to the left two and then to the right by one, and then I’ve got a clear path forward. Trying to strip things down to an objective mental tetris game actually has helped keep me calm and collected enough to quickly figure out the BATNAs and forge ahead!

    1. I can relate to you, Jess! I’m often playing a mental tetris game to navigate possible solutions to small, daily obstacles. I’m still learning to let go and live with a looser grip on things, but the chess-like approach does seem a bit better than letting myself spiral into stress and negative thoughts as you said!

    2. Love the way you’ve reframed the thinking / reimagined it here. It’s almost like you’ve harnessed the instinct into something constructive rather than anxiety-inducing / spiral-inducing! Thanks for sharing this!


  3. Reading this is like looking in the mirror! I too imagine every single possible scenario that could devolve from from even the most low stake situations. I’m going to try mentally bringing the gate down as you suggested, though I too am not sure how much I’ll succeed on that front!

Previous Article

Next Article