The power of “the BOP” when dealing with conflict

May 01, 2024 | EDR Blog

by Danya Rumore

Person's feet standing at the bottom of three white arrows pointing left, straight ahead, and rightIn my last blog, I made the case that people tend to misunderstand power and, as a result, they often give up their power when dealing with conflict. In this blog, I want to build on those ideas by explaining a key source of power in negotiation and conflict situations: your ability to understand and exercise what I call the BOP—your “best option possible.”

What is the BOP?

Like many conflict competence concepts and skills, the BOP is very simple in theory but not easy to put into practice. For most of us, understanding and being able to exercise this skill requires shifting how we see and deal with conflict. So let me explain the BOP by walking through three interconnected points:

1. You always have options when dealing with conflict

The first thing we need to realize in order to understand the BOP is that whether or not we realize it, we always have options when dealing with conflict.

Our options may include different potential conditions we can agree to in order to resolve our differences. For example, an employer and a job candidate may have some different interests regarding what should go into the candidate’s hiring package, and they can explore a wide range of options for everything from salary amount to paid time off to start date to work schedule. Both parties also have the option to walk away from the negotiation to pursue another opportunity.

We also have options around how we choose to behave in conflict situations; for example, if someone wants something different from what we want, we can choose to yell at them or we can choose to listen to their concerns with curiosity—or we can choose to act in all sorts of other ways. 

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, we have different options for how we perceive a conflict situation. For example, we can approach a conflict situation with the mindset that conflict is a problem or threat, which, as I have explained in prior blogs, tends to create the downward spiral of destructive conflict. Alternatively, we can recognize that “conflict just is” and see it as an opportunity to learn and create something new, which makes it possible for us to respond to conflict in conflict-competent ways

The main takeaway here is that we always have options—and therefore we always have a choice—about how we deal with conflict. We are never stuck. And recognizing this empowers us to make intentional choices about how we choose to perceive, deal with, and decide amid conflict—including to identify and employ the BOP. 

2. When dealing with conflict, a good outcome is one that addresses your fundamental needs and concerns

In order to work with the BOP, we need to get really clear on the fact that a good outcome from conflict is not “winning;” it is creating a solution that addresses our fundamental needs and concerns.

As I have explored in previous blogs, we have a tendency to see conflict through a scarcity lens and, therefore, to treat it as a zero-sum, win-lose situation. For example, we become focused on coming out on top in an argument, proving that we are right, “sticking it to them,” or pushing a certain solution for addressing an issue. When we do this, we understandably tend to see the goal as winning, or at least not losing, and this typically leads us to behave in ways that ultimately create bad outcomes for us and the situation, such as hurt feelings, degraded relationships, and lost opportunities. In sum, approaching conflict with a win-lose mindset tends to lead to lose-lose outcomes.

Instead of approaching conflict with the assumption that the goal is to win, we have the option of instead focusing on creating a truly good outcome. And to do that, we need to be really honest with ourselves and get clear on what really matters

Coming out on top in an argument, proving we are right, sticking it to them, or making sure that the solution we have in mind gets implemented are NOT what really matters to us. These are all strategies (i.e., our “positions”) for trying to address deeper needs or concerns (i.e., our underlying “interests”). In other words, they are a means to an end. 

The crazy thing is that we often get so fixated on advocating for particular positions that we totally lose sight of our interests and, as a result, we often push for outcomes that don’t meet our needs. Put differently, we end up pursuing means that don’t meet our desired ends!

For example, you may get so focused on winning a family argument that you don’t realize that what really matters to you is to feel heard and considered by your family members. Pushing your point louder and more fervently in an effort to win the argument might (and likely will) only lead to them getting more entrenched in their positions and being less able to truly hear your concerns. In becoming fixated on winning, you might produce an outcome that is opposite of what you wanted—and which doesn’t meet your needs.

This is why one of the most important things we can do when dealing with conflict is to avoid becoming positional and to instead get really clear on what matters to us so we can focus on creating a truly good outcome. 

3. The BOP is the option that is most likely to really meet your needs and create a good outcome

OK, now that we’ve clarified those things, let’s talk about the BOP. 

The BOP—our “best option possible”—is the option that is both possible and most likely to really meet our underlying needs and concerns and to create a good outcome when dealing with conflict.

Let’s illustrate this by returning to the above example. Imagine that you are caught up in an argument with your family members and realize that you feel a desire to win the argument—but also realize that your underlying need is to feel heard and considered by your family members. What is your best option possible? 

As noted above, doubling down in trying to get your point across in an argumentative way likely won’t lead to your needs getting met. So, what might be a better option for meeting your true interests? If you asked for my advice as a conflict-resolution professional, I would probably encourage you to practice curiosity and effective listening to really try to understand what your family members care about, and to be OK with the fact that they may have views that are different from yours. However, if you are in the midst of a heated debate and are dysregulated, then practicing curiosity and effective listening may not be possible for you at the moment. If that’s the case, perhaps your best truly possible option is to step away for a bathroom break and to return to the conversation when you’re in a more calm, regulated state and, thus, able to behave in more conflict-competent ways. Or maybe you don’t even know how to practice effective listening—or how to calm your neurological system so you can do so—in which case, maybe your best option is to invest some time and energy in getting training in conflict competence.

So how do you identify the BOP?

To help me identify the BOP, I find it helpful to make sure I am in a calm and present state of mind, then to ask myself the following questions (which I also mentioned in my last blog):

  1. What really matters to me in this situation (i.e., what are my interests)? 
    • Tip: I find it helps to ask “Why is that important to me?” or “How does that matter?” repeatedly until I get to what feels like my core needs and concerns.
  2. What would be a truly productive outcome in this situation? 
    • Tip: I ask myself “Would that outcome truly meet my needs and improve the situation?” If the answer is not a clear yes, then I know I need to refine my thinking.
  3. What can I do—on my own or with others—to meet my key interests? In other words, what are my possible options?
    • Tip: It is easy to assume something is or is not possible. Therefore, I always remind myself to explore whether something is (or is not) a possibility before deciding whether it is really an option.

After I’ve answered those questions, I ask myself one final question:

  1. Of those options, which one is most likely to create a good outcome and address my interests? In other words, what is the BOP?
    • Tip: It can be hard to know whether any given option will really create the desired outcome. I try to be really realistic about how different options are likely to play out, to be open to trying things and learning from how they do (or do not) work out for me, and to be ready to change my approach if it isn’t producing good outcomes.

A few important clarifications about the BOP

To set you up for success in understanding and utilizing the BOP, there are a few things I want to make clear.

  • The BOP isn’t wishful thinking. It isn’t your dream of what you would like to see happen (e.g., I wish things would go back to the way they were a decade ago!), nor is it a particular outcome you want to manifest (e.g., I wish I had a new boss!). It is a very pragmatic assessment of all of your possible options, what those options are likely to get you, and which is most likely to meet your needs and achieve a good outcome.
  • The BOP isn’t selfish or antithetical to creating mutual gains outcomes. The opposite is true; when we commit to taking care of our needs and become effective at truly understanding and exercising the BOP, we can show up to conflict from a place of empowerment, ready to work with others to create value and truly problem solve. Instead of operating from a place of reactionary fear—which leads to us becoming positional, doubling down, and behaving in destructive ways—being clear about what matters to us and ready to exercise the BOP liberates us to behave in conflict-competent ways because we know we have our own backs.
  • How is BOP different from BATNA? In teaching people how to navigate conflict, I have long taught about the idea of BATNA, which stands for “best alternative to negotiated agreement” and comes from the book Getting to Yes. Your BATNA is basically your best option for what you can do if you and the parties you are working through conflict with do not reach agreement; it is often referred to as your “walk-away option.” While BATNA is an enormously powerful concept, I have found through years of teaching that people often struggle to grasp and implement this idea. It also seems to give people the incorrect impression that, when dealing with conflict, our options are either to reach agreement or to totally walk away from the situation (such as by getting a divorce if you can’t resolve a marriage conflict, or quitting a job if you can’t reach agreement around a workplace conflict). Instead of asking “What is my best alternative to negotiated agreement and is that better than what is being offered?”— which can be difficult to assess—I just like to ask myself “What is the best option available to me at this moment to help me get a good outcome, with or without the involvement of others?” That question often illuminates surprising and powerful pathways forward for creating positive outcomes from the situation.

Commit to taking care of your needs and to creating truly good outcomes by understanding and exercising the BOP

As I explained in my last blog, our power lies in our ability to influence our situation so as to take care of our needs and create positive outcomes. And one of the best ways we can do this is through understanding and exercising the BOP. 

I encourage you to practice with the concepts and skills covered in this blog, and to have fun playing with the BOP!

Danya Rumore, a white woman with brown hair wearing a teal blouse and cardiganDanya Rumore, Ph.D., is the director of the Environmental Dispute Resolution program in the Wallace Stegner Center at the University of Utah. She is a research professor in the S.J. Quinney College of Law and a clinical associate professor in the city and metropolitan planning department at the University of Utah. She teaches about, practices, and conducts research on conflict, negotiation, dispute resolution, leadership, and collaborative problem solving. She is also the founder and a co-director of the Gateway and Natural Amenity Region (GNAR) Initiative.


About the EDR blog: Hosted by the Wallace Stegner Center’s Environmental Dispute Resolution (EDR) program, the EDR blog shares ideas, tools, and resources to cultivate a culture of collaboration and help readers be more skillful in working through conflict. Read additional blog posts at