When you hear the word “negotiation,” what do you think of?
For many people, the word makes them nervous and uncomfortable.
For others, it excites them and prepares them for a challenge.
Whichever feeling you get when you hear it, you no longer have to fear the word “negotiation.”
Negotiating in English doesn’t have to be scary. Rather, it can be a tool you skillfully use to impress your boss and colleagues.
This post will give you all the basic phrases you need to know to participate in business negotiations in English. Let’s get started!
This Isn’t Negotiable: Learn the Basics of Business Negotiations in English
Negotiation is the noun form of the verb “to negotiate.” A negotiation is a give-and-take process between two or more parties that want to find a common ground and reach an agreement so they can settle a matter that concerns both parties or find a solution to a problem.
The following vocabulary related to negotiations will help boost your confidence when negotiating in the business world.
The article will break down these negotiation phrases into the following parts of a negotiation: Making an Offer, Clarifying an Opinion, Special Conditions, Expressing Doubt, and Reassuring and Closing a Deal. Each section will have short mini-dialogues. Finally, there will be a dialogue that uses phrases from each section.
Making an Offer
The first stage of a negotiation usually beings with making an offer. This is the part where you “put your cards on the table.” In other words, you tell the other party what you and/or your company have in mind in terms of business between the two parties.
Here are some useful phrases for this part of the negotiation:
- I’ve come up with what I’m sure you’ll agree is a very beneficial offer.
- I would like you to consider our offer of…
- I would be prepared to offer…
- We’re in a position to offer…
- Would you consider…?
In each of these scenarios, you show that you are in control. By using words like “beneficial” and “consider,” you show that you are respectful of the other party.
Patricia: Thanks for meeting with me, Michael. What did you have in mind?
Michael: It’s a pleasure, Patricia. I’ve come up with what I’m sure you’ll agree is a very beneficial offer.
Patricia: I’m listening.
Michael: We currently supply 50 trucks a week to your business. We’re in a position to offer 55 trucks a week if we get a 10% package deal. This would include two months free from our side and a complimentary conference lunch for your whole team once every four months. Would you consider this proposal?
Patricia: That sounds like a very tempting offer. But let me talk this over with my superiors and I’ll get back to you on this one.
Always remember that you must be respectful in all interactions, especially in business English conversations. That will make it easier to negotiate and will make your life a whole lot easier!
Let’s look at the opposite side of the coin. These phrases are useful when you want to ask what the other person has to offer:
- What can you offer us?
- What did you have in mind?
- What figure did you have in mind?
- What’s the bottom line?
- Make me an offer.
Gary: As you can see, this stands to benefit both our companies in the long run.
Susan: I hear you. What figure did you have in mind?
Gary: $15 million.
Susan: Sorry, but that’s not going to happen.
We have seen how you can make an offer and how to ask the other party to make an offer. Now let’s look at some phrases you can use to clarify an opinion.
This is especially important in negotiations because you need to understand what is being said. If you do not fully understand the terms and conditions, you might find yourself agreeing to something that could turn out very badly for you and the company.
Clarifying an Opinion
To avoid confusion, it is imperative to ask questions and ask for clarification when in doubt. Here are some phrases to help you do that:
- Are you saying that…?
- Basically what you’re saying is that…
- So in other words…
- It sounds like…
For each of these phrases, you are explaining what the person said to you in your own words. In many cases, you are actually repeating what the other party said.
Steven: We propose a 25% headcount reduction.
Tanya: Are you saying that one in four people is going to lose their job?
Steven: Pretty much.
Tanya: That’s not good for the company’s image, but we may not have a choice. So, in other words, you’ll offer them severance packages?
Steven: That’s the plan. We’ve made sure that the packages will cover those affected for at least three months.
At this point in the negotiation, any misunderstandings can be and should be corrected. After all, business is about making sure the parties involved all understand what is required and are in mutual agreement.
After ironing out the creases and understanding what the other party requires, it is important to make sure any special conditions are explained fully and thoroughly. The following expressions can help you to do that:
- What about we give you… in exchange for…?
- What if…?
- How about…?
- We can do it provided…
- We can do it on the condition that…
- We can do it, as long as…
- We can’t do it unless…
This could be described as the “meaty” part of the negotiation, for two reasons. First, this stage of the negotiation could make or break the deal. Second, both parties have to come to an agreement that satisfies both parties.
The phrases above tell us exactly whether something can or can’t be done (We can do it provided… / We can’t do it unless…). This is your time to shine! Your wonderful negotiating skills will come through when you aim to please the other party without compromising your company’s interests.
Chris: ABC can supply XYZ with 50 more tons of produce (food).
Daniel: Great. Is there a catch?
Chris: We can do it as long as we don’t have to pay maintenance costs for the extra trips we will do.
Daniel: What if we go 50/50 for maintenance and fuel costs?
Chris: Make it 90/10.
Daniel: How about 80/20?
Daniel: Deal. And we’ll even throw in one of our own trucks to cut back on costs.
This ties in nicely with the next part of negotiating: expressing doubt and reassuring. Here are some great phrases to help you achieve both:
- I’m not 100% sure.
- I’m not quite sure about that.
- Are you sure about that?
- I’m not sure that’s the case.
- How can you be sure?
- I’m a little skeptical about this.
- Do you really think so?
- No, not at all.
- You don’t need to worry about it.
- Far from it.
- Let me assure you this is not the case.
Let’s see a few more of these phrases in action.
Tom: It’s really simple. You pay 75% upfront before we begin cooking, and the rest after the event.
Jane: I’m a little skeptical about this.
Jane: Because that’s a huge deposit to be asking for catering. We’ve been in business for a while now. Surely you trust we’ll pay you on time.
Tom: True, but in the past, we have had payment problems, especially with big events. Remember April of 2009?
Jane: So you’re saying you don’t trust that we will pay?
Tom: No, not at all. I believe that you paying that amount upfront is a gesture of goodwill. You don’t need to worry about it. We will deliver quality food as always have. We just need the money to be paid on time, ahead of time, to be able to keep delivering the best. Do you see where I’m coming from?
Jane: I think I do. But I’m going to need a bit more convincing.
Closing a Deal
Negotiating is about making sure both parties are happy with the end result. That’s where the final part of negotiation comes in.
Here are some great phrases to use when closing deals and expressing agreement:
- It’s a deal.
- We are in agreement.
- I think we have a deal.
- Sounds good to me.
- That sounds reasonable.
- This agreement is acceptable to us.
Dialogue with Basic Negotiating Phrases
To put this all together, let’s use an example I’m sure you’ll relate to.
We have Jill, an online English teacher from the UK. Her student, Raphael, has been learning English for over a year. Jill has now increased the price of an hourly lesson to $25, but Raphael isn’t very happy about it. It goes a little something like this:
Jill: Hi Raphael. Great to chat with you again. Have you thought about what we spoke about?
Raphael: Likewise, Jill. Yes, I have and quite frankly, I think $25 is too high. I’ve been a loyal client of yours for over a year now. We chat three to four times a week, which would mean I pay you… let’s see, $100 a week? That’s crazy.
Jill: I totally understand where you’re coming from, Raphael, but remember that I’m a freelancer. I pay way more tax than an employee. After tax, I’m basically left with nothing and I still have to think of health insurance, internet bills and my family.
Raphael: I understand, but let’s talk this over.
Jill: What did you have in mind?
Raphael: I’m prepared to offer $15 an hour.
Jill: That’s barely an increase over what you pay me now!
Raphael: I’m studying part-time, remember? I also have bills to pay.
Jill: OK. How many lessons do we have a week?
Raphael: Three or four, depending on the week.
Jill: Let’s take three lessons a week, then. Three lessons a week at $15 a lesson is $45 a week. A total of $180 a month. That’s less than $200.
Raphael: So you’re saying that’s not enough?
Jill: Yes. If we compare it to three lessons a week at $25 a lesson, that’s $75 a week or $300 a month. That’s a whole loss of over $100.
Raphael: Hmm, I see where you’re coming from, but I still can’t afford it.
Jill: How about $20 a lesson?
Raphael: I’m not 100% sure. Still pricey.
Jill: I’m pulling on threads here, Raphael.
Raphael: OK, OK. I’m willing to do $18.
Jill: Are you sure about that?
Jill: We can do it as long as we finish strictly on time. Any overtime for any lessons will result in a moving the classes to a $20 per hour fee. Agreed?
Raphael: Agreed! Sounds good to me. Thanks, Jill. I really look forward to our lessons.
Jill: You’re welcome, Raphael. So do I. Thank you.
Wasn’t that easy? Of course, it may not be exactly like this in real life, but you get the idea.
For more detailed examples of negotiation phrases in use, check out this series in English Club.
Lazolia Buzuzi is an experienced online English teacher and writer. She has taught hundreds of students and helped them get their dream jobs and travel to English-speaking countries with confidence.