Negotiation: The TA vs. Students

Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)

The TA could stand firm, lose rapport with all students but they don’t act on it, and he goes unscathed.

Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (WATNA)

Students are pissed, will go to his supervisor and post about him on The will give him a bad end-of-course evaluation.


I can’t imagine being a TA dealing with your dissertation and dealing with new students.

Best Outcome

If no time to redo assignment, use curve (+20 points).

  1. Reach a settlement?
  2. Yes.

  3. Terms
  4. The “draft paper” would count for only half a grade and additional work would be assigned in the form of an oral presentation worth 1.5 of a grade. The final paper would count for a full grade.

  5. Keep secret, if not what did you disclose? How/Why?
  6. I disclosed that the rest of the students had shown poor engagement, their papers demonstrated a lack of preparation, and that they have not done the reading. That separated Lydia from the rest of the class.

  7. Did you learn anything about the other side that would change your estimation?
  8. She brought up that she’d been reading my blog and posed it as very embarrassing personal information. For a moment I wondered what exactly I had posted and if I was about to face blackmail. Instead I found that she was just talking about my two chapters, and faced it straight on and said kind of yeah, that’s why it’s not a bad lesson for the students to learn up front.

  9. What was most important for OTHER side, distributive/integrative?
  10. Distributive issues (if grade is equivalent of money).

  11. What was most important for YOUR side, distributive/integrative?
  12. Integrative

  13. If integrative, which ones?
  14. I just didn’t want to deal with this anymore and didn’t figure that it could get any worse than it already was. It was just about time for me.

  15. What did you learn about yourself as a negotiator?
  16. I learned that when suddenly the power shifts, as in the moment when someone brings up material that could be construed as black mail, then you have to be able to figure out how to keep your cool. You need to be able to think on your feet and keep engaged, to not show your cards, if you will. Because I was able to scoff at the implied accusation and not let it visually ruffle my feathers I was able to maintain the upper hand. Had she seen that it had gotten to my cool a bit then I would not have been able to maintain that position of power and I subsequently would have lost further credibility with the students.

    I also learned that having a clear position of power means that you have a much stronger point of negotiation because you have a “frankly my dear, I don’t get a damn” attitude.  I also learned that enjoy the position of power – it was liberating to be able to have the upper hand and to be in control, but you could very quickly let that go to your head and end up on a power trip which ultimately could end your reign. J

  17. Is there anything you will try to do differently based on this negotiation experience?
  18. I’ll try to start looking at negotiations with more of a “what’s the worst” attitude. Knowing your WATNA and knowing that you have other options means that you have the upper hand and that you can walk away at any time and don’t have anything to lose when it comes to the options before you.

    Knowing this I’d also like to look at being a bit more upfront about what I’m looking for, or what cards I have in hand. I wonder if this form of honesty might help in rapport building or if it could be a turn off? Maybe people will feel backed into a corner instead of like they have all the options and details on the table. But I can’t find that out until next negotiation.

    I guess, though I’ve mentioned it several times already, I can’t get over how powerful I felt being the seemingly ‘untouchable’ TA. Knowing that you’ve hit rock bottom (or your knowing your WATNA isn’t so bad) is just so empowering. It’ll be interesting to see how the feeling of power plays out in future negotiations.


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