How will you meet your goals if you can’t reach an agreement with your negotiating counterpart? Though this essential question should influence how you behave, many negotiators can’t answer it. Learn why it’s so important to know your alternatives.
TranscriptNegotiators, Know Your Alternatives! (Despite What Will Smith Says…)
I recently saw a very brief movie clip in which Will Smith, in the middle of a difficult gun battle, yells into his walkie talkie: “We’re going to go to Plan B!” His partner, Martin Lawrence, yells back: “What plan B? We don’t have a Plan B!”
Too many people negotiate this way.
And I don’t mean the guns part. I’m referring to the “not having a plan B” part.
They’re negotiating with someone, and yet they haven’t considered how’ll they’ll meet their needs if they can’t reach an agreement with them.
Knowing how you can meet your interests without your counterpart—knowing what we call your “alternatives”— is of the utmost importance.
Every negotiation involves a fundamental, yes and no decision. Can I get what I want here, with you, or would I be better off walking to my Plan B, to my alternative?
If you and I are negotiating, me going to my alternative basically involves me walking away from you to work with someone else.
A few examples? Let’s say you are negotiating for a price reduction from a vendor. Your alternatives might include buying from a different vendor, finding someone within your organization to provide the vendor’s service, or changing your plans so you don’t need that service.
Trying to negotiate a raise at your current job? Your alternatives might include getting a similar job at a different company, getting a second job to increase your income, changing professions, or going back to school.
Be forewarned: Your alternatives might stink! But that’s important to know, and it will impact how you negotiate. Plus, after you’ve identified your alternatives, you might be able to improve them. (The person hoping for a raise might research the job market, talk to key contacts, and determine how likely it is that they could find a comparable and higher paying job elsewhere.)
Effective negotiators determine their alternatives before they negotiate. That’s how they prepare. And you should too.