Undoubtedly the question Scotwork consultants are asked most by clients and course participants is ‘How do I deal with a negotiator bully at work?’. More on that another time. The second most common question – ‘How do I get a better deal when going for a new job or a promotion?’ was brought to mind by an interview to be aired by the BBC next week with Lord Mervyn King. In preview excerpts, he asserts that the UK Government has been incompetent in the Brexit negotiations and that “a government that cannot take action to prevent some of these catastrophic outcomes (such as a shortage of medicines and food if there is a ‘No Deal’ result) illustrates a whole lack of preparation”.
What is the connection? It is BATNA - the concept that good negotiators should be aware that there is always an alternative to a negotiated agreement and that knowledge of what is the best alternative for both parties to the conflict will help participants strategize the negotiation. In short, it is a major component of the power balance.
There is nothing more flattering than being told by an employer that you have been selected as the preferred candidate for a post, maybe from dozens or hundreds of applicants. But if the package on offer is not as generous as you hoped for or expected how risky is it to start negotiating improvements to it before the job offer is confirmed? Most candidates feel vulnerable. Their BATNA is not to get the job or promotion. Better to take the job on the terms on offer and work on getting improvements later on.
Big mistake. The truth is that once the employer has made a job offer they are in the more vulnerable position. You are their preference - the best alternative to an agreement with you is a second best candidate, or maybe no suitable candidate at all. That’s probably worth quite a bit of money and an extra week’s holiday or a bigger car.
So back to the Brexit negotiations and Lord King. We have heard so many times that as far as the UK is concerned No Deal is better than a Bad Deal. In negotiator-speak that translates as ‘my BATNA is better than a bad negotiated agreement’. To make that believable the EU must believe that the arrangements made in the event of a No Deal scenario are robust and effective in both the short and long term. Whether Lord King’s view about how well we have done that is debatable. But the problem exists both ways. If, as expected, the EU make a counteroffer to the Chequers proposal which is unexciting and mean, maybe even punitive, the UK negotiators should think and behave like the savvy job candidate I describe above.
Barnier’s BATNA is very much a poor solution – it impugns his deal-making capability and will create a storm of dissent and concern from European business. In addition, the attitude from Europe since the referendum - that the UK got themselves into this mess so they have to do all the work to get themselves out of it – quickly unravels in the face of a real economic downturn within the EU no matter who is to blame.
So my advice to the UK negotiators is to behave like the clever successful candidate. Don’t be traumatised by the Oliver Twist syndrome that asking for more leads to a beating. The EU wants us, nay they need us. They don’t even have a second best candidate – we are the only game in town. So if we push them, firmly but politely, it must worth their while to offer us a better deal.