Negotiators Want To Know: Should We Ever Reveal Our BATNA?

Negotiators have to decide how much they want to reveal during a negotiation
Negotiators have to decide how much they want to reveal during a negotiation
Image Credit: Ron Mader

During a negotiation, our goal is always to find ways to use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to move the other side closer to reaching a deal with us. There are a lot of different ways that we can go about doing this. One of the biggest questions that we are always facing during a negotiation is just exactly what we should reveal to the other side in order to move things along. We all know our limits and what would cause us to walk away from a negotiation is a big deal. Should we ever let the other side know what our limits are?

The Power Of A BATNA

The concept of a BATNA comes from the negotiating book “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In”. This book introduced the concept of having a BATNA strategy (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) as “the standard against which any proposed agreement should be measured.” When a negotiator knows what they’ll do if they don’t reach a deal, they can compare that possibility to whatever deal is on the table.

The better your BATNA, the greater your bargaining power will be. An example of this is if you’re already excited about one strong job offer, you can bargain hard in negotiations for another job without worrying about what will happen if the employer won’t meet your needs. Being aware of your BATNA will keep you from accepting a worse outcome than you could get elsewhere – and, conversely, from rejecting an agreement that’s better than your BATNA. Negotiators often wonder whether they should reveal their BATNA to their counterpart and, if so, when.

Never Reveal A Weak BATNA

As negotiators, we all believe that we should never share your BATNA with the other party if it is hopelessly weak. Another way of saying this is to call a bad BATNA a WATNA, or worst alternative to a negotiated agreement. An example of doing this is if you tell a supplier that you dumped your last partner and are desperate to do a new deal. This is a surefire way to ensure the supplier will highball you on price and resist compromising. During a negotiation you will also want to be careful to avoid appearing to be in a hurry, seeming stressed, or revealing that you have a wide-open schedule. All of these can be potential “tells” that you don’t have much else going on and may be ready to close a deal on your counterpart’s terms.

Never Bluff About your BATNA.

We always have to know what to do if the other side asks you about your BATNA directly? You can explain that you are working on various possibilities but want to concentrate on the deal on the table for the time being. You need to resist the urge to embellish or fabricate a BATNA to try to boost your bargaining power. You will sacrifice not only your ethics but perhaps also your reputation if you’re caught in an exaggeration, misrepresentation of facts, or a lie.

What if you feel you need to reveal your BATNA to keep outside parties informed, or for some other reason? In such cases, frame your BATNA as positively as you honestly can and avoid getting into the details, but be prepared for it to face scrutiny.

Never Reveal Your BATNA Too Early In The Negotiation

When you open up about a great BATNA to your counterpart early in the game, the information that you are providing could come across as a threat: “If you can’t give me an even better deal than the one I just outlined, I’m out of here.” Threats in negotiation tend to foster a competitive atmosphere and hinder your ability to explore tradeoffs that could create value.

Something else to realize is that if the other party doesn’t think your BATNA is as strong as you do, they might drive a harder bargain than they would if they didn’t know about your best alternative. The other side might even try to worsen your BATNA. An example of this would be if you tell a potential employer about a great offer you have that’s due to expire in 24 hours, the employer might try to drag out talks to allow the deadline to pass.

Even if you’re certain your BATNA strategy is rock solid, you might want to hold off on revealing it. The reason for doing this is that it could prove to be a useful bargaining chip during the final stages of a negotiation after you’ve exhausted all other strategies.

During A Negotiation Do Work To Actively Improve Your BATNA

Remember that it’s not enough to simply talk about your BATNA. Rather, during a negotiation you need to do everything you can to try to improve it. For a job seeker, that might mean continuing to seek leads in your network even while interviewing or thinking about other paths, such as going back to school.

Don’t Let The Other Side Talk You Out Of Your BATNA

You need to understand that if you show up for a negotiation and you start to brag about your BATNA strategy, the other side will start to try to play it down. When the other side disparages your BATNA, they are obviously hoping to taint it in your eyes. Do not fall for this tired, old ploy. Of course, it’s smart to investigate any potentially legitimate claims the other side makes about your BATNA, but recognize that they has very real incentives to convince you that your outside options are not as good as you’d like to believe.

Encourage The Other Side To Share Their BATNA

We can be reluctant to ask the other side about their BATNA for fear of discovering that it’s impossible to compete with. It turns out that this would be knowledge to seek out rather than to shy away from. If there’s no way you can give the other side what they can get from someone else, you would save everyone’s valuable time by revealing this fact and ending the negotiation. On the flip side, your queries about the other side’s BATNA could reveal that they have a terrible one – valuable information that will immediately put you in a stronger bargaining position.

What All Of This Means For You

One of the most powerful tools that a negotiator can take into a principled negotiation is our BATNA. However, once we are there we will be facing an important question. Just how much about our BATNA should we reveal to the other side? Would revealing it strengthen our position and help us to get the deal that we want?

All negotiators understand that a BATNA provides us with a great deal of guidance in helping us determine when a deal should be pursued or walked away from. During a negotiation we never want to reveal to the other side if we have a weak BATNA. Likewise we never want to try to buff about our BATNA because that can come back to haunt us. You don’t want to let the other side know what your BATNA is too early in the negotiations. A BATNA is not a fixed thing and during the negation you need to be working to try to make it stronger for you. Keep in mind that the other side may try to talk you out of your BATNA. Attempt to get the other side to reveal their BATNA to you in order to strengthen your negotiating position.

When we go into a negotiation, we often do so with few tools available to us. Having a BATNA can be something that helps us to have a stronger position from which to bargain from. We need to treat our BATNA with respect and not reveal it to the other side during the negotiation so that we don’t weaken our position. Instead, use it to evaluate what the other side is offering you and determine if you are going to be able to reach a deal with them.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: How do you think that you can make your BATNA stronger during a negotiaton?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When we enter into a negotiation, our goal is to be successful. What that means is that we want to be able to reach an agreement with the other sides that meets our needs no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used. In order for this to happen, we need to take the time to prepare for our next negotiation. However, that is easier said than done. In order to prepare properly, we need to understand exactly how we need to spend our time.