BATNA: The key to better conversations and smarter negotiations

Tell me… before entering a conversation, do you determine your BATNA?

Your BATNA is your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. It’s what you will settle for if an agreement can’t be reached and it creates a clarity that makes an agreement more possible.

Wait… what?

Win or Lose & the Scarcity Approach

Let’s backtrack for a moment. In negotiations (or conversations where you’re trying to figure something out), there’s a tendency to see things as black and white, win or lose.

We think about what we want for our best possible outcome, and go in with a mindset of having to “win” what we want. Anything else is either a failure, or at least not a win.

This mindset is rooted in a scarcity approach – the belief that there isn’t enough for both sides, so one of us is going to get the short end of the stick and it better not be me.

BATNA & the Abundance Approach

Instead of focusing on best possible outcomes, what if instead you went in with a mindset that anything is possible if you work together?

But… wouldn’t that mean a lot of compromise and not getting what you want? Or possibly being taken advantage of?

Not if you prepare your BATNA ahead of time.

Imagine you’ve been routinely overloaded with work and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. You have a meeting scheduled with your boss to discuss the situation.

Before you go into that conversation, explore all your options and examine them beside your core values. First, consider what matters to you in terms of the overload. Is it the lack of compensation for extra hours? Is it the extra time you’re putting in, or responsibility you’re taking on? Really dig into why this matters for you.

Once you have that, imagine that an agreement with your boss is just not possible.

What would you do? What would your best alternative be? In this case, your best alternative might be to walk away. Explore that. Look at what else is out there, make a list of contacts you could reach out Woman in office drinking coffee and workingto, update your CV, and so on. Make sure you have a clear, actionable plan at the ready – not as a threat to your boss, but as a solution in the event that an agreement can’t be reached.

Determine your BATNA – your best alternative to a negotiated agreement – before the meeting, then get clear on what that would look like and how you would make that happen.

This gives you a more realistic benchmark for negotiating – one where the space for reasonable compromise is clear as day.

During the meeting, any suggestion that is worse than your BATNA is immediately off the table. Any suggestion above your BATNA is on the table for discussion.

Once you determine your BATNA, you’ll realize that there are so many possibilities above it and so many ways that you and your negotiating partner can co-create a mutually beneficial agreement – a solution where both of you win.

This empowers you to go in with an abundance approach – there is enough for both of you and there’s no need to battle it out.

Duality vs. Oneness

I’ve been digging into the concept of oneness recently. In fact, I’ve even made it my theme word for 2021. It can seem a bit woo woo to some, but not only have I also made bringing my woo woo forward a goal for this year, oneness is also a concept that can fuel more productive, mutually beneficial, authentic and creative business conversations.

Guy sitting in an ancient ruins siteIn our society, we often lean towards duality – once again, that black and white, win or lose, us against them mentality. Duality can be a comforting and tidy way to look at things, but it is also very limiting.

The concept of oneness is that we are all part of a unified whole. We are all connected and everything we do is connected.

In this way, we can look at negotiations as two parties working together to co-create a solution within the bigger picture. It isn’t “me against you” but “us together”.

With this approach, your BATNA is all about how you maintain a healthy connection to that bigger picture, and how you build and/or maintain a healthy relationship with your negotiating partner. After all, whether they’ve prepared their own BATNA or not, they absolutely understand that you need to maintain the integrity of your organization. When you take the combative approach off the table, you are both able to see each other as partners rather than opponents.

Partners create. Opponents destroy. Aim to create.

Tips for Creating & Utilizing Your BATNA

  • Get clear on the values of your organization – what matters most.
  • Get clear on the overall goals of your organization.
  • When designing your BATNA, ensure it is aligned with your values and goals.
  • Map out what your BATNA will look like if put into action – This empowers you to enter negotiations from a heart of peace, co-creation and abundance. You have a solution. You’re not fighting for survival. You’re working together to create an even better solution.
  • Do some inner work to create calm and connection for yourself ahead of the meeting.
  • Adopt a mindset of partnership over opposition – Rather than two parties at war, you are two parties coming together to co-create great things.
  • Use partnership language – Your negotiating partner may be entering the discussion from a heart of war. By adopting “us together” language from the start, you can disarm them and bring them into peace. Try things like:
    • “We both have our bottom lines, so I’m excited to see what we can come up with that works for all of us.”
    • “What is most important to you in figuring this out together?”
    • “I value our relationship and it matters that we both succeed. I’m confident we can create something that meets both our needs.”
    • “This has to work for both of us, so let’s talk about values first and see where we match up.”
  • Know the difference between healthy competition and combative competition – In business, competition is inevitable. With healthy competition, we inspire each other to become better. In fact, the primary focus is on becoming better. In combative competition, the focus is on “beating” the other. Confidence in your BATNA gives you a weapon of peace to pull yourself and others out of that combative approach.

BATNA Over Avoidance

To live fulfilling lives, we need to learn how to confidently handle conflicts. Avoidance cannot be an option.

When we feel like something is difficult, often the real struggle is that we don’t know how to respond, and we don’t know what we’ll do if it doesn’t work out. We’re afraid.

Using tools like BATNA, we give ourselves response roadmaps, which eliminates much of the fear and anxiety around conflict.

In terms of negotiations, always remember that truly successful negotiation creates possibilities. People become more focused on winning TOGETHER, and relationships become rooted in respect for each other’s interests and humanness.

To cultivate a relationship means to work in partnership. It means continually searching for common ground to resolve interpersonal conflicts and, most importantly, grow.

What do you REALLY want? Behind every conflict is a massive space for collaboration. If there were no common interests, you would have no need to even connect in the first place. Something brought you together and that’s often your connection point.

When we choose to see negotiation as the opportunity to create something together, the possibilities become endless and growth happens for everyone. If you would like guidance in having healthier conversations, or would like to coach your team to have more successful conversations, I invite you to connect with me.