Simple But Useful Ideas: BATNA

I’m more than a little skeptical of the academic merits of MBA programs (mine included), but there are a handful of ideas I picked up in school that I still use almost daily. BATNA is one of them. It stands for “best alternative to a negotiated agreement”, and was coined by Harvard Law professor Roger Fisher in his incredibly useful text on negotiation, “Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.”

My colloquial definition of BATNA is your “f*!k you option”, the best card you can play if the deal you’re trying to put together falls completely apart. And it comes up all the time: in discussions with startup CEOs looking at their financing options: with investors evaluating new deals: with managers negotiating with prospective employees; with friends thinking through their next career move, etc.

Simply put, if you have a strong BATNA, you’re much more likely to get to a deal you can live with. If you don’t, you’re likely to wind up holding the dirty end of the stick. My short advice on the topic is this: cultivate your BATNA well before you sit down at the negotiating table, believe in it with all your heart, and don’t be afraid to play that card to get what you think you need.