The First Step to Winning at Negotiations: Understanding Your BATNA

The First Step to Winning at Negotiations: Understanding Your BATNA

Emanuel imagined walking into the meeting, shoulders straight and determined. He’d lay down his terms with the most convincing of arguments. The others in the room would nod their heads, approving his request. He’d walk out like a boss, a sly smile on his face, knowing he’d won that negotiation.

Hands down, one of the most essential tools for your career-growth toolbox is the art of negotiating. Yeah, some people may be naturally good at it, but for the vast majority of us, it’s something you learn. Let’s cover one of the core parts of negotiations: Knowing your BATNA.

What’s a BATNA?

BATNA stands for Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement. It’s essentially your option if you end up losing in your negotiation and can’t come to an agreement with the person. I’ll give a quick example:

Brenda was having a hard time making ends meet. A friend had offered her a job at $13/hour and she was considering it. Brenda enjoyed what she did, working at the coffee shop was great, but making only $11/hour was making life difficult. She knew other baristas that were earning $15/hour and decided she was going to ask her boss for a raise. She hoped he wouldn’t become upset over it.

Imagine Brenda scheduling some time with her boss and asking for the raise she wanted. A few things might happen. She might get the raise she’s asking for or she might not get anything at all. Maybe she could get some increase, even if it wasn’t the $4 extra she wanted. In the absolute worst case, she might anger her boss and cause problems at work.

Brenda’s BATNA in this case might be the new job her friend is offering her. It could also be not getting the raise she wanted but keeping her job and hoping for one in the future. If she’s okay with these scenarios then she’s got nothing to lose by asking her boss. That’s the power of having a BATNA. It allows you to do things you may not be completely comfortable with.

Using your BATNA to Empower Your Negotiations

If you’ve ever gone into a negotiation, and you couldn’t take no for an answer, you’ll understand why having a BATNA is so important. If you can’t walk away with no agreement, you’ll always be vulnerable to getting less out of the deal you’re trying to make. Let me give another example that illustrates this:

Ahmad crashed his car earlier in the week and needed a new one right away. He had already taken the week off work, but his boss told him he had to come in on Monday or else there’d be serious consequences. He was desperate for a used car within his budget of $5,000 but the dealer wouldn’t budge at $6,000. If he walked away from the deal, he might lose his job. That wasn’t an option. He had to buy it.

In this case, Ahmad didn’t have a BATNA and was at the mercy of the car dealer. He didn’t have another car to buy, he didn’t think about taking public transportation, and he wasn’t willing to risk taking more time off work. Lacking a BATNA that he was comfortable with caused him to be stuck purchasing the car for more than he could afford.

Imagine how different the situation would have been if he had a BATNA. He’d be able to firmly tell the dealer that he wasn’t going over $5,000 and threaten to walk away from the deal. Sensing his resolve, the dealer might have tried to sweeten the deal or, if possible, reduce the price.

Negotiations are all about leverage, and giving up on having a BATNA will always lead you to having the weaker hand. A skilled counter-negotiator will call your bluff, and because you can’t walk away, you’ll be at their mercy.

BATNA Mental Checklist: The 4 Questions to Ask Yourself

I wanted to make this even easier for myself, and so I put together this quick mental checklist. You should use this each time you have to make a request, or enter into a negotiation. By going through it in your mind, you’ll end up finding your BATNA and having a much stronger position going in.

  1. What if they say no?
  2. Am I willing to walk away from my request?
  3. What’s my best alternative if I do walk away?
  4. Am I okay with that?

Remember, if you’re not comfortable with your BATNA, then it isn’t a BATNA at all. Make sure it’s something you can accept even if you’re not completely happy with it. So long as it’s an acceptable alternative, you can use it as a hidden anchor during your negotiation.

Winning By Having More Options

Even an unskilled negotiator can sense if someone is desperate to make a deal happen. As people, we’re trained to sense emotions in others, and fear is one of the easiest to spot. If you absolutely need exactly what you’re asking for, the chances are that you’ll end up paying way more than necessary for it.

Here’s my challenge to you. From now on, for every request you make, think about your BATNA. Even if it’s a silly thing, like asking someone to pass you a napkin a lunch, it’ll be worth the practice. Eventually, you’ll train your brain to do this naturally, and in situations where it really matters—like asking for a promotion, or purchasing a new home—you’ll have practiced enough to do it right.

I’ve seen not only my ability to negotiate successfully improve, but that I’m also more willing to make requests that I was shy to make before. Knowing my BATNA let’s me answer the question of “what’s the worst that could happen?” Once you’re okay with that, you’ll be more free to learn, grow, and find greater success in everything you do.


Credit: Feature image by Freepik

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