• Stefan Szepesi

#1: Do Not Confuse BATNA With WATNA


The acronym BATNA, the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, is central to negotiation theory. It yields over 13 million results in Google, over 10 times more than the negotiation best-seller Getting to Yes which coined the term well over three decades ago. If your BATNA is very strong, it is your main source of power in negotiation: you can go elsewhere if the emerging agreement is not at least as valuable as your alternative. Tactically you may chose to directly or indirectly reveal your BATNA to the other side and make them realise you have other options. In contrast, if your alternative is very weak, you hope your negotiation partner is not aware of this. Knowing your BATNA and analysing that of the other side is among the most basic of negotiation preparation tools. Having done so, you can say with confidence that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.


"The next time you walk away from the table, be prepared to walk away from the table" –Harvey Spectre, SUITS

Your BATNA, in other words, allows you to walk away from the table. Except… when your BATNA is actually your WATNA: the Worst Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. There are situations when your BATNA is either non-existent or so bad that the acronym is best altered. In the Brexit debate, former PM Therese May used BATNA logic to argue that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, threatening to cut off the nose to spite the face. She backed away from this when no-deal became an all too real possibility, obtaining an extension from the EU twice. While sounding tough can be helpful in certain negotiation circumstances, it can have the opposite effect if the other side knows your BATNA equals your WATNA.


The current PM, Boris Johnson, made negotiation theory 1.0 the central debate in Parliament last month. He argued MPs should not legislate against no-deal as it would take away the single largest source of leverage he holds. But Parliament adopted the legislation (in Johnson's words: "the Surrender Act") anyway. So did MPs dismiss negotiation 1.0 logic? Not really. In order to use BATNA/WATNA leverage effectively, you have to be perceived to negotiate "in good faith" by the other side; to be in the game for a deal acceptable to both parties. The majority of MPs did not believe the EU sees Johnson as a good faith negotiator.


You don't have to be in Brussels to see why.


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