Your best alternative

Many aspects of life are a negotiation in some form. To deal with these successfully it is crucial to consider your walk away alternative. Exploring your alternative allows you to consider how necessary it is for you to reach agreement. You might be positively surprised.

This week I spoke to clients of mine who had had their first successful meeting without me.

The first party I got a hold of sounded very relieved. She told me that for the first time during this mediation she could actually imagine reaching a sustainable solution to their problem.  When I asked her what had led to this breakthrough she said that it was her walk away alternative that had shed a new light.

In a series of individual talks I had explored the following with each one of them:

  • The most desirable outcome for their business aswell as their personal satisfaction.

  • Their best alternative to the situation at hand that did not include the other party.

By exploring their walk away alternative out loud each party had become aware of their own needs and interests. They had realised which of their interests were non negotiable to them. On the other hand they had also envisioned the opportunities that they would lose if they decided to brake off the negotiation.

This exercise had brought considerable insights aswell as a peace of mind that enabled them to finaly talk about needs and interests that may lead to joined solution.


A walk away alternative is also known as a BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement): a concept developed at the Harvard Negotation Project. It is part of the techniques described by founders of the project, Roger Fisher en William Ury, in their bestseller Getting to yes to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

If the Harvard Negotiation Project has proven something it is that negotiation need not be a win-lose exercise.

Your alternative

You may be facing an important negotiation or a difficult conversation on a sensitive matter on which your interests are opposed to those of your partner. The odds are that both you and the other person are thinking of reasons and justifications for the demands. Surely non of that debate will bring you much closer.

What if you change strategies and explore your alternatives?

Let’s say you want a raise. Why not explore your options by discovering what other employers pay their employees. Make sure you look into the remuneration of employees who have the same amount of experience and expertise as you do and whose job subscription is comparable with yours.

Are you instead looking to buy a house or rent office space, then take the time to realise what it really is that you are looking for. Surely location, price and square meters are important criteria but what is truely important to you? Once you have figured that out, you should visit and negotiate more than one premise to avoid tunnelvision or power play.

Your needs and interests

At the same time consider your underlying needs and interests. In case of a negotiation about a raise you might want to wonder why you want that raise. What is it that you are hoping to get?

Could there be other needs at heart than pure financial ones? You may in fact be looking for recognition, or independence or status. What is it that really triggers you?

If you know that you can start thinking of options that fulfill those needs. And you can think of alternatives that meet your interests that do not involve the other party.

You may realise that a structural and significant raise is not the only option. A new title can help you gain status too and a different job subscription may help your career in the long run. If you have worked a lot of overtime you may decide to stop doing so after claiming a long holiday or a bonus compensating for the extra hours you have put in and gain more than you would have with a raise.

And it doesn’t stop there. Maybe a change in your private life may prove just as effective.

Taking the time to consider your real needs aswell as your best alternative without the other person will offer you a new perspective.

One that frees you from desperation and will lead to an actual solution.