Project Practitioners > Just Walk Away

Just Walk Away

By Michael Aucoin

The hot, expensive red sports car was calling out: “Buy me! Buy me!” It was a “gotta have” car from the moment the customer first saw it. The test drive sealed the deal.

Salespeople love a customer like this. Once the emotional investment is made, price takes a back seat to obsession.

Of course, hot red sports cars are not the only objects of our obsessions. In fact, “gotta haves” often pop up in our projects. The problem is not the obsession in and of itself, because it is appropriate to obsess about what is necessary and good for the customer. Rather, the problem is blind obsession, without objectivity and without regard to cost.

To continue our mini-series on negotiation, we address the single most important step in preparing to negotiate. Once you have a general idea of what you want, this important step is determining the alternative to getting what you want. As a twist on the hit song from that well-known project manager, Kelly Clarkson, you must be prepared to just walk away.

The ten-dollar term that describes this concept is best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA. If you do not achieve what you want in a negotiation, your BATNA is the contingency that is invoked – you walk away from the negotiation at hand, and walk toward the BATNA.

Identifying your BATNA prior to entering negotiations is critical, because you will achieve a better outcome. And if you achieve a better outcome, your counterpart will as well. Having a BATNA takes some of the pressure off a negotiation: if the terms negotiated are not to my liking, I still have an alternative that will work.

Recently my daughter and I got to exercise the BATNA concept while purchasing her first car that she will take to college. She had identified two used cars that were the same model, but that differed in age and features. We saw the older, less expensive car first, at a dealer that we liked, with no pressure to buy. That car became the BATNA for the trip to the second dealer.

A few days later, we saw the pricier car, the one she thought she wanted. From the moment we arrived at the dealer, the tricks were in play to get us to buy right away. The clincher came after the test drive, while sitting in the salesman’s office. The sales manager came in and said that another customer was ready to buy the same car, and pointed to someone getting in it for a “test drive”. But, because we arrived first, we’d have the first chance to purchase.

However, I had taken note that since we had arrived, there had not been another customer in sight, a curiosity for a Saturday afternoon. I was certain that the other “customer” was actually someone who worked for the dealer, and the “test drive” was a cheap shot to trigger a compulsive decision. My daughter and I agreed to invoke our BATNA, the first car. The final tricks bounced off the BATNA, and we said goodbye to the pushy and manipulative dealer.

A comfortable BATNA creates a sense of peace when exploring another deal through negotiation. On projects, being clear about the BATNA enables teams to make better decisions on features, schedule and cost.

Know when you can just walk away!

Do you have an interesting negotiation story you’d like to share with us? Please do – we’d love to hear it!


B. Michael Aucoin, D. Engr., PE, PMP is president of Leading Edge Management, LLC and author of Right-Brain Project Management (Management Concepts, 2007). He can be reached at

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