It’s All About the BATNA, Benjamin…


If you’re going to successfully negotiate with anyone — and this includes negotiating with yourself, by the way — you had better know what your BATNA is.

Got BATNA?

Having a good clear understanding of your BATNA, or Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, is what gives you focus and often, confidence as a negotiator.  One of the earliest appearances of the term BATNA was in the 1981 classic, Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.   Too caught up in digital distractions to sit down and read (or even remember) the book?  Well, the crowdsourced wisdom of Wikipedia provides a tight summary of how Fisher and Ury describe how to best to uncover and leverage your BATNA, which is particularly important when negotiating with a party that “is more powerful than you.”  Once again, I’d like to include negotiating with yourself — i.e. with your own impulses and habits — under this umbrella.

Here’s a tale about Benjamin Franklin that illustrates the BATNA concept nicely:

Desperate Times…

In his early career as a publisher of The Pennsylvania Gazette, Benjamin Franklin faced a business conundrum.

An article was brought into the office with the request that Franklin publish it for a fee.  Franklin considered the piece “scurrilous and defamatory” and so he didn’t want to print it.

However, Franklin was a struggling entrepreneur without much money, so he asked that the proposed article should be left to the following day, when he would decide about printing it.

..call for Clear-Headed Measures

The person who brought in the proposed article returned the next and received the following message from Franklin:

“I have perused your piece and found it to be scurrilous and defamatory.

To determine whether I should publish it or not, I went home in the evening, purchased a twopenny loaf at the baker’s, and with water from the pump made my supper; I then wrapped myself up in my great-coat, and laid down on the floor and slept till morning, when, on another loaf and a mug of water, I made my breakfast.

From this regiment I feel no inconvenience whatever. Finding I can live in this manner, I have formed a determination never to prostitute my press to the purposes of corruption, and abuse of this kind, for the sake of gaining a more comfortable subsistence.”

– Ronald W. Clark, Benjamin Franklin, a Biography. Da Capo Press, 1983

This story about Franklin is similar to something we learned from Siddhartha, who described the secret to his seemingly magical success as an unassailable BATNA:

“I can think.  I can wait.  I can fast.”

How strong is your BATNA?  ..and are you willing to stick to it?

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About danspira

My blog is at: http://danspira.com. My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on April 1, 2011, in Business, Communication Skills, Negotiation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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