How a strong BATNA can save your business

The term BATNA, or Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, typically refers to your fallback plan in the event that whatever negotiation you’re involved in doesn’t go through. Whether you’re negotiating the salary for a new job or the acquisition of your company, having a solid and strong BATNA can help strengthen your overall position.

However, the practice of developing options and alternatives is imperative outside of direct negotiations as well.

Let’s say, for example, you’re a startup that’s developed a shiny new widget. Its ready to go, you’ve poured everything you have into it: time, money, blood, sweat, tears, political capital with your family, the whole shebang. Now you’re working on that first big sales contract or you’re taking your consumer based product to market directly to customers.

Negotiations with our Ancestors

Stories and guiding myths get passed down through generations and shape how we approach negotiations in our daily life. Many situations we face for the sake of personal growth and global progress require each of us to renegotiate relationships with family members, as well as our deceased relatives and cultural heroes.

A key argument I make in Negotiating Inside Out is that one of the hardest parts of any negotiation is the one that happens inside your own head. Your own values and beliefs often get in the way of getting what you want. Sometimes, the values and obligations inherited from our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and ancestors have the most profound effects.

BATNA, Decoded

Like many other subjects, the study and practice of negotiation has become a club shrouded in acronyms. Insiders throw terms like BATNA and ZOPA around like everyone should be teaching their kid to spell them in their alphabet soup. For the rest of though, many of these acronyms are simply meaningless.

BATNA Basics

When you enter into a negotiation with one or more parties, it’s usually under the premise that you want to improve your current position. Maybe that’s a new job, selling your company or getting your young daughter to hold still while you brush her hair. When negotiating any arrangement, your BATNA is your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Or simply put, plan B.

What is Intentional Negotiation?

The word negotiation conjures many connotations and meanings to people. Whether that be haggling with a car salesman or bargaining with your boss for a raise, most people don’t connect with negotiation on a positive level. Or at the very least, don’t consider themselves negotiators.

In reality though, each of us negotiates life, every moment of every day. Most people merely navigate these conversations or events; or simply look to not get the raw end of any deal.

But I believe that when you approach each negotiation with a purpose and a clear outcome in mind, you can work with the other party to achieve mutually beneficial results. I like to think of this as, intentional negotiation.

Negotiation of Values and the Fiscal Cliff

Want to excel in a negotiation? Understand the other party’s values. I’m not talking about monetary value, but rather those beliefs about our reality that we hold most dear.

What do I mean?

Let’s look at the fiscal cliff negotiations:

We can all agree on…

When negotiating, both the Democrats and Republicans ultimately want the fiscal solvency of our country. They also want long-term economic growth, lower unemployment and people back to work. At a high level, these values align. I think most of us would also agree on that.

While at one level, the fiscal talks are about money, in reality they are about values. Deeply held beliefs about how much money people (citizens) should be required to pay into the government, from what activities, and then how that money gets spent by the government.

The conflict ensues as each person, and thus each political party, begins to assign their own meaning to abstract terms like “fiscal solvency” and “economic growth”. For some, fiscal solvency means a balanced budget, while for others it means running a deficit at a percentage of GDP. Even within those factions there are people that disagree on what the size of that balanced budget or the percentage of GDP should be.

As discussions move from high layers of abstraction down to defining what each of these terms mean in concrete reality, people’s values start to collide.

Negotiation’s Silent Actors


Belief in an outcome always precedes its realization.


When you enter into a negotiation, whether it be: negotiating your salary, selling a product or trying to get your three-year daughter to eat her vegetables, there are silent actors at play. They often operate in your subconscious, but ultimately dictate the outcome of your negotiations.