Tip #553: Key Interests and BATNA in Negotiation

middle aged asian

“We cannot negotiate with those who say: ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.'” John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I was just in Amman, Jordan to conduct a two-day Interest Based Negotiation training program. On Day One, our focus was Getting to Yes.

Based on the work by Roger Fisher, there are five basic steps:

(1) separate the people from the problem; (2) focus on interests, not positions; (3) generate options for mutual gain; (4) rely on objective standards; and (5) keep your BATNA (your best alternative to a negotiated agreement) in your hip pocket.

We had lots of interesting discussions. One dealt with the difference between interests and positions. We decided, based on my strenuous encouragement, that positions are rigid and reactive- I won’t back down from this position- whereas interests are what we would like to gain, although these are flexible and can be reconfigured as the negotiation proceeds.

We had terrible difficulty agreeing as to what a BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) was. My belief was that a BATNA is based on your key interests- what you really need, versus what you might like to gain.Others felt that a BATNA was what you do if the negotiation fails- such as demonstrating or striking. We went back and forth, temporarily agreeing to disagree. A number of participants were understandably confused and requested more discussion tomorrow.

After the class, a few participants and I conferred and later I came up with an explanation that validates both perspectives:

The Relationship Between Essential Interests and BATNA

Essential Interests answer the question: What do I absolutely NEED?

Essential Interests have two separate uses:

  1. to determine which negotiated option is best


  1. to identify the best alternative if an agreement cannot be negotiated (BATNA)

The Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement answers the question: If I can’t satisfy my Essential Interests through negotiation, what other alternatives exist within my span of control that could help me get those Essential Interests satisfied?

For example, if you won’t agree to perform a specific service for a specific price, my BATNA will be to find someone else who will.

Another example, if you won’t agree to a fair objective standard so that we can negotiate an agreement, my BATNA will be to find someone in authority who can pressure you to do what I want to accomplish.

One party’s BATNA will quite often have a negative impact on the other party. For example, if I find someone else to provide the service I want, you will have lost a potential client, which might lessen your potential income.

Another example, if I find someone in authority to pressure you, that may be more unpleasant than negotiating an agreement with me right now.

A BATNA can be mentioned during a stalled negotiation to motivate the other party to work toward a negotiated agreement rather than suffer the consequences if the BATNA is implemented.

If no agreement can be negotiated between the two parties, then both will then implement their BATNAs.

What do you think of this description?

May your learning be sweet.




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