Negotiators, Know Your Alternatives! (Despite What Will Smith Says…)

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    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.


    Negotiators, 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.

14 responses to Negotiators, Know Your Alternatives! (Despite What Will Smith Says…)

  1. Gregorio says:

    Richard, I watch your videos and they are always great, but this time I have to leave a comment; this one about negotiating is so prevalent and so much in tune with our daily lives, not to mention if you run a business. Thank you and keep-up the good work. Gregorio

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks, Goyo. Great to hear from you, and glad you found this one useful. Knowing your alternatives definitely can lead you to make better decisions, at home and at work.

  2. Michael Katz says:

    Another great video. And you got me thinking, as usual. When I left my job to start my own business, I deliberately didn’t have a plan B. My thought was (and is) that with a “burn the ships” approach, I’d make sure it worked out. This isn’t the same as a negotiation; do you think no plan B under these circumstances can be helpful?

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Hey Michael. It’s an interesting question. Sounds like that “jump and the net will appear” approach. “Burning the ships” may just indicate that you feel your alternatives are so unappealing that you are going to do whatever it takes to realize Plan A. I don’t think it hurts to know what Plan B is, however, nor do I think knowing Plan B will weaken your commitment to realize Plan A. But that’s me. Thanks for writing!

  3. John says:

    Hi Richard,
    These are so awesome! I tweeted the link and posted it on my own blog. Keep going…these are so clear and easy to follow! And you have a wonderful way of engaging!

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks, John. So glad you are appreciating these. They require a lot of work, so encouragement is good! ;o) Be well, and tweet away…

  4. Eileen says:

    Nicely done!! You have a great presence, Richard. And I like the image editing.

    One idea — to bring that point about how knowing our alternatives in advance can change how we negotiate, and that’s a big reason why it’s so important to understand plan B before beginning negotiations. Specifically, at :56 on your video, that’s where I’d insert that point.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks, Eileen. I’ll take a look. Don’t think I’ll re-edit this one, but now everyone knows. ;o) I appreciate your helpful suggestion. Be well

  5. Marty Cohen says:


    This video was the best. Unless you know your alternatives, how do you know if you have made the correct negotiating decision. Keep up the good work.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks, Dad! Nice to know you are out there watching. ;o)

  6. Michael Toebe says:

    If people realized how important a topic that Richard is talking about, how helpful to their lives insightful negotiation can prove, they would watch this video a second time.

    Effective negotiators research and plan, and they determine their aspiration, as in their ideal outcome and their reservation, or the point of indifference where they are willing to move on to their alternatives.

    They think about their best alternatives. They work to develop these before a negotiation. They think about their worst alternatives too, as in if they don’t negotiate well, what could be the consequences.

    They think about why they want what they want and how to get those priority desires met creatively, trading off what is of lesser importance to them for what is of more significance.

    They help themselves by learning what the other party wants and then helping them get their interests (why they want what they want) met too.

    They stay poised and have a mindset of a creative, collaborative problem solving.

    On another note, I see a Michael Katz comment in this thread. For anyone who doesn’t follow his work and read his marketing newsletter, I recommend him. You can learn from him in a way that is not hardcore and full of jargon but in a conversational, practical and easy-to-implement manner.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks, Michael, for your thoughtful comments and your props. ;o)

  7. Belinda Wasser says:

    Hi Richard – In our work together – getting clear on Plan B allowed me to take the pressure off of Plan A and get better in touch with where I ultimately want to land. It was a great relief to me to know I would be okay either way. Thank you!

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      So glad you found that helpful, Belinda. Yes, knowing your alternatives, your “Plan B,” gives you the lay of the land. And when you are fortunate enough that Plan B ain’t bad, it can give you more confidence and ease in pursuing Plan A. And you are going to get it!

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