|Source: Sarah & The Spider (Flickr)|
When negotiating, we would love to have a strong BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement). In those instances, the attractive fall-back plan enhances our leverage at the negotiating table. Moreover, it boosts our confidence as we negotiate with a counterparty.
What happens, though, if we don't have a solid alternative? Are we doomed to be a very weak position at the negotiating table? Michael Schaerer, Martin Schweinsberg, and Roderick Swaab have explored these questions in a new paper titled, "Imaginary alternatives: The impact of mental simulation on powerless negotiators." They find that imagining an attractive alternative can have beneficial effects, even when no such option exists. The scholars summarize their findings:
The present research demonstrates that negotiators can act powerfully without having power. Researchers and practitioners advise people to obtain strong alternatives prior to negotiating to enhance their power. However, alternatives are not always readily available, often forcing negotiators to negotiate without much, or any, power. Building on research suggesting that subjective feelings of power and objective outcomes are disconnected and that mental simulation can increase individuals’ aspirations, we hypothesized that the mental imagery of a strong alternative could provide similar psychological benefits to having an actual alternative. Our studies demonstrate that imagining strong alternatives causes individuals to negotiate more ambitiously and provides them with a distributive advantage: negotiators reached more profitable agreements when they either had a strong tendency to think about better alternatives (Study 1) or when they were instructed to mentally simulate an attractive alternative (Studies 3-4).
The findings demonstate the incredible power of our imagination, and they warrant further investigation outside of the laboratory.