I run training workshops in negotiation skills all over the country, and I couldn’t tell you how many times someone in a workshop tells me about a deal they made and asks “Do you think I got a good deal?”.

My answer is almost always the same: “Was it better than your BATNA?”.

People look at me blankly when I ask that question, so I thought I might explain it here.

BATNA stands for the ‘best alternative to no or to the negotiated agreement’.

You should never go to a negotiation without having thought about a BATNA. Your BATNA is your alternative option or options to get what you need. It might be working with a different supplier to keep within your budget, or taking an alternate job offer if you can’t get your pay expectations met. Essentially, it’s what else can you do, without the other party, to get the outcome you are hoping for?

Once you have settled on a BATNA, you should negotiate in good faith to see if you can reach a beneficial agreement together. But before you make a deal, consider how the deal stacks up against your BATNA. If the deal is better than the BATNA; take the deal. If the BATNA is better than the deal; employ the BATNA.

One more thing, it’s not usually a good idea to reveal your BATNA at the table. For example, if you say to a current employer “If you can’t meet my pay expectations, I’ll take a job elsewhere”, they may well invite you to do just that.

A BATNA isn’t supposed to be used as leverage. It’s a measuring stick so you can assess the value of your deal more objectively. Don’t get confused.

So next time you negotiate, go prepared – think about your possible BATNAs. Just having one will help you feel empowered because you know you have other options and if you measure your deal against your BATNA, you’ll know if you got a good deal.

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Negotiation isn’t a form of face-to-face combat. It’s an intricate dance.

To do it well you must know the steps, be able to sense the shift in tempo, recognise your partner's strengths and weaknesses and get to the end together.

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