“Typically, negotiation experts will tell you to prepare by making a list: your bottom line; what you really want; how you’re going to try to get there; and counters to your counterpart’s arguments.

But this typical preparation fails in many ways. It’s unimaginative and leads to the predictable bargaining dynamic of offer/counteroffer/meet in the middle. In other words, it gets results, but they’re often mediocre.

The centerpiece of the traditional preparation dynamic—and its greatest Achilles’ heel—is something called the BATNA.

Roger Fisher and William Ury coined the term in their 1981 bestseller, Getting to Yes, and it stands for Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Basically, it’s the best possible option you have if negotiations fail. Your last resort. Say you’re on a car lot trying to sell your old BMW 3-series. If you already have another dealer who’s given you a written offer for $10,000, that’s your BATNA.

The problem is that BATNA tricks negotiators into aiming low. Researchers have found that humans have a limited capacity for keeping focus in complex, stressful situations like negotiations. And so, once a negotiation is under way, we tend to gravitate toward the focus point that has the most psychological significance for us.

In that context, obsessing over a BATNA turns it into your target, and thereby sets the upper limit of what you will ask for. After you’ve spent hours on a BATNA, you mentally concede everything beyond it.

God knows aiming low is seductive. Self-esteem is a huge factor in negotiation, and many people set modest goals to protect it. It’s easier to claim victory when you aim low. That’s why some negotiation experts say that many people who think they have “win-win” goals really have a “wimp-win” mentality. The “wimp-win” negotiator focuses on his or her bottom line, and that’s where they end up.

So if BATNA isn’t your centerpiece, what should be?

I tell my clients that as part of their preparation they should think about the outcome extremes: best and worst. If you’ve got both ends covered, you’ll be ready for anything. So know what you cannot accept and have an idea about the best-case outcome, but keep in mind that since there’s information yet to be acquired from the other side, it’s quite possible that best case might be even better than you know.

Remember, never be so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t take something better. Once you’ve got flexibility in the forefront of your mind you come into a negotiation with a winning mindset.”

Excerpt From

Never Split the Difference

Chris Voss & Tahl Raz

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