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Updated: 15 Jul 2018

BATNA Explained – Best Alternative



Having good options available before you start negotiating is best practice. You'll feel empowered and confident to either reach a mutually satisfactory agreement, or walk away to your better alternative.

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Is an old saying which has stood the test of time. To a negotiator, this wise old proverb illustrates that if you only negotiate with one counterparty, you may end up with a rotten deal, or no deal at all. You need to have an alternative waiting in the wings.

This is where BATNA comes to the rescue for those of us sensible enough to have heeded the sage advice of that old farmer who coined the above proverb many ages ago.

BATNA means ‘Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement‘. This is your alternate plan when the talks start to wobble out of control. It can also be your trump card to make the deal happen to your advantage, or walk away from it altogether.

Let’s illustrate BATNA by using a simple example. In the first scenario, let’s say that you are a buyer who goes to a supplier to purchase some badly needed parts to complete a project. The supplier senses your urgency; his eyes begin to gleam with anticipation. You want the lowest price possible while he wants a higher price. Uh-oh! You have no fall-back negotiation position. While you’re both in this negotiation boat together, it’s the supplier who’s holding the oars, so no prizes for guessing who decides which direction your boat moves.

for a moment let’s instead imagine you you’ve taken a negotiation training course, and so know the value of going into your negotiation meeting better prepared. Before arranging the meeting, you set up talks with two alternative suppliers who are ready and able to handle all your needs. When you meet with the first supplier in this second scenario, you can calmly sit back in your chair, and allow the supplier to finish his spiel. Now, watch the gleam fade from his eyes when you make mention of some aspect of his or her competitor’s offering. You have a BATNA! The talks suddenly become more amenable. Yes, you now have a firm grip on the negotiation oars to steer the terms in your direction.

BATNA or NO BATNA? That is the Question

The power of your BATNA affords you the leverage to ask for more. If you don’t get what you’re looking for, then you can turn to your best alternative. A strong BATNA is like a warm, fuzzy insurance policy. A strong alternative provides you with two possibilities. Either you settle an agreement with more favourable terms, or you have the option to simply say ‘No deal’.

BATNA doesn’t come in a package. It comes from planning and preparation. It is a two fold process. First, you have to determine all your available options. Then, you must also realistically estimate your negotiation counterpart’s alternatives. Both are equally important. You need to figure out who’s best alternative is stronger and more actionable.

You should seek increasing your flexibility . It is important to keep in mind that both your approach, and your alternatives, should be able to bend in the wind and weather an unexpected storm. A negotiator may enter the talks with a preconceived idea of the best alternatives available to both parties, but must not be bound by them.

Circumstances can alter rapidly. Unexpected changes can be anything from new information, a sudden rise in costs, or new legislation. A sudden shift in conditions can immediately affect the strength of either parties BATNA during the negotiation process.

What’s in Your BATNA?

How do you determine your best alternatives to a negotiated agreement? First, you have to dissect both your position and your negotiation interests. Then, look at the sum of these parts relative to all the alternative options available. Pick the best option. Finally, do the reverse from your counterpart’s perspective. A well prepared negotiator looks at the whole picture.

Some of the most crucial factors which should be considered include:

  • The cost: Ask yourself how much it will cost to make the deal relative to the cost of your best alternative. Cost estimation may entail both the short term and the long term. Figure out which of your options is the most affordable.
  • Feasibility: Which option is the most feasible? Which one can you realistically put into action in time?
  • Impact: Which of your options will have the most immediate positive influence?
  • Consequences: What do you think or estimate will happen as you consider each option as a possible solution?

Egos and Orchestration

Keep your ego in check. After all the work you put into building up your BATNA, you might be feeling pretty smug. Studies have clearly shown that it is an all too human tendency to overestimate the strength of one’s own BATNA, while underestimating the strength of your counterpart’s.

The underlying danger occurs at the point when one party reveals an over-estimated BATNA too early in the talks. Having put all their cards on the table too soon, they call the other side. Suddenly, they find that their big hand really equates to a pair of deuces facing a full house. Kiss that pot goodbye!

Let’s examine the enviable position when you do have the stronger BATNA. Let’s suppose you know the other party needs to make a deal, and they have no good actionable alternatives available. You may choose to allude to your own powerful BATNA in this circumstance. We have counselled our clients on our sales negotiation training courses to avoid rubbing their buyer’s nose in their unfortunate negotiation position, lest this turns from business to personal and the buyer starts to work on a medium to long term alternative to move away from doing business with you. The BATNA you employ can act as a powerful leverage while you decide whether or not to make the deal. As always, gauge the situation accordingly. Timing can mean everything in determining when to put your BATNA on the table.

Boosting Your BATNA

In the reverse situation, what can you do with a weak BATNA? Can your turn the tables? Yes, there are two ways this might be accomplished. The first possibility is to strengthen your own BATNA. The second way is to reduce the BATNA of your counterpart.

  • Be Creative: Simply ask yourself what other options you might employ that could increase your bargaining position. Brainstorm the situation with all the key players in your organisation. Your planning must also factor in your counterpart’s interests and options.
  • Improve Your BATNA: Endeavour to expand your options. One possibility is to consider bringing into the mix more vendors or buyers. A new party’s interests may coincide with key components of your interests, or of your counterpart’s. For example, this might entail creative financing which presents a more attractive option to your counterpart. If you weaken the other side’s best alternative by injecting another element into the mix, the game takes on a whole new slant.
  • Use Experts: Neutral parties with their own relevant expertise might be able to unravel your problem into a newly designed, but in high valued package. If your side lacks some area of expertise, get the experts to lend a hand.


Failing to have actionable alternatives going into a negotiation is simply not best practice. Having an attractive actionable alternative option empowers you with the confidence to either reach a mutually satisfactory agreement, or walk away to your attractive alternative.

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4.1 out of 5 from 8 responses
  • 10
    Trina on

    I bought a used car this past summer and made a bad decision and negotiations. I'm taking a class on negotiations this fall semester and was introduced to BATNA. I sure could of used this important information earlier this year. It would have helped me be a better negotiator and settle with a better car deal. I have learned much from this valuable article. Thank you

  • 12
    A. A. Fergusson on

    I was introduced to BATNA at a workshop at Harvard in the 1990s. Having retired some 18 years ago, I had forgotten all but the acronym. However, I am involved in an important negotiation with a debtor and welcomed the revision. It has helped enormously. Thanks.

  • 91
    Dr Piotr Jednaszewski on

    Presented illustration of BATNA shows clearly as the proverb says: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Nowadays many managers overuse BATNA in negotiations instead of having it as the last resource. Presented examples are down to earth and sufficiently illustrate how to work out the problems using BATNA.

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