In 1983, Roger Fisher and William Ury wrote what turned into a Bible of negotiating, “Getting to Yes.” In it they defined BATNA as “the best alternative to a negotiated agreement.”
It’s a wonderful, catchy phrase for an important and useful concept. Unfortunately, we also find that many negotiators are unclear and misled by it. Many people think BATNA must mean something like “the best deal I can get”. On this view, BATNA would be about “what’s the best deal I can get in the negotiation I’m currently in.”
But that’s not what BATNA means.
BATNA asks what’s your alternative to negotiating with that particular person (ie, the person with whom you’re currently negotiating).
David Zehren suggests a slight modification to the classic “BATNA” acronym that brings clarification and focus to the key concept behind it. He suggests “BATTN”—the “best alternative to this negotiation”. BATTN is more specific. And it helps clarify that the best alternative to a negotiated agreement might be a different negotiated agreement.
David believes the concept behind BATTN (née BATNA) is a powerful concept and that nothing else explains nearly as well what each of the parties in the negotiation will ultimately agree to. If you understand BATTN—and especially if you understand the counter-parties BATTN—you very often know what the other party will or will not accept.
So, if you’re not familiar Fisher, Ury and BATNA, “Getting to Yes” is still a great and worthy read. But if you need help remembering the concept behind BATNA, try thinking of BATTN instead.