business english negotiation

3 Simple Steps for Scoring a Successful Business Negotiation in English

Why was there no World Series (baseball game) in 1994?

Because of bad negotiation skills.

The baseball players went on strike (refused to play) starting August 12 because they didn’t like a policy the team owners had made.

Since the players and the owners couldn’t negotiate well to agree on a new policy soon enough, baseball season ended early and the important game was cancelled.

The act of negotiating can be challenging at times, but it’s absolutely necessary for business.

And as it did in 1994, its outcome (result) can change history.

Luckily, not all negotiations end badly.

In 2011, another strike took place in the sports world. This time good negotiation skills saved the American football season.

Knowing how to negotiate will help you again and again in the business worldClearly there’s even room for improvement in basic business negotiation skills for native English speakers. So by following three simple steps, you’ll learn strategies (ways) to negotiate well.

Before we get to the steps, let’s look at a few additional resources you can use to improve your negotiation skills.

Self-study Resources to Improve Your Business English Negotiation Skills

A good negotiator needs the following:

  • Good listening skills
  • Good communicating skills
  • Good ability to read body language

You may have these skills in your native language, but now you need to get them in English. You can learn a lot through:

  • Movies clips of negotiations: You can learn a lot about negotiation in English by watching English language TV shows and movies. Take a look at how some popular characters do it.
  • “Getting to Yes” (book): There are lots of books on the market about how to negotiate. However, “Getting to Yes” is a classic (one of the best books to read on the subject). 
  • Negotiation360 (app): Harvard Business School Professor Michael Wheeler created Negotiation360 to help native English speakers improve their negotiation skills. What a great way for you to improve both your negotiation and your English language skills!

Now, let’s look at the 3-step negotiation process.

3 Simple Steps for Scoring a Successful Business Negotiation in English

Remember, when you’re negotiating, you want to reach an agreement between two parties (groups) who have different needs and wants. The negotiation process follows three steps.

The parties:

  1. Prepare for the negotiations
  2. Have the negotiations meeting
  3. Close the meeting and summarize all of the points

We’ll take a look at each step in detail.

Step 1: Prepare for the Negotiations

It is so important to prepare well before negotiating. You’ll be lost without proper preparation.

So before you rush into the negotiations meeting, take my advice: Use these tips to plan for the meeting.

Decide what you want

Want your negotiations to succeed? Then you’re going to have to determine clearly what you really want. That’s what all negotiators need to do.

You, however, need to take an extra step—and I’m sure you already know what it is.

That’s right. You need to practice expressing your thoughts in English.

Get started by answering these questions in English. At this point it’s okay to write notes in English.

  • What is the issue?
  • What do I hope to get out of this?
  • Why is the outcome (result) important to me?
  • What am I willing to negotiate?
  • What is non-negotiable (cannot change)?
  • What is my upper limit?
  • What does the other party hope to get out of this?
  • Why is this outcome important to them?
  • What might happen if they don’t get what they want?

The answers to these questions will help you identify:

  • What it is that you want to negotiate
  • What is negotiable and what isn’t
  • Your upper limit
  • The other side’s point of view and their needs.

But wait, you aren’t done yet—next you’ll need to create an agenda.

Create an agenda

The agenda is a piece of paper with the meeting’s schedule. It should have all of the issues you’ll discuss, in order from first to last.

A well-prepared agenda will help you stay on track and make sure that you cover all of the issues you’ve identified during the preparation process.

When you’re creating the agenda, start with the issues that will be easiest to negotiate. Save the difficult ones until last.

Practice negotiation phrases and vocabulary

Now you need to practice answering these questions in English. Also practice what you’re going to say during the meeting and think about questions that you may be asked.

Consider doing these activities with English speaking co-workers, friends and family.

Take a negotiations class in English

Practice makes perfect. And practice builds confidence. You can reach both goals by taking a negotiations class in English. This option will allow you to practice in a stress-free environment.

The class you take depends on your level.

Are you advanced? Then take a negotiations class for native English speakers.

Not that advanced, yet? Then take a negotiations class for ESL students.

Either level could also benefit from private classes. This setting allows you to practice language that is relevant to your own negotiations meeting.

Practice confident posture

Add body language practice to your language practice. You don’t want to appear weak in any way. Improper body language can create the wrong image of you.

Take time to talk to yourself in the mirror and practice using confident body language. Stand tall and smile!

Practice listening as much as possible

Your responses while negotiating will only make sense if you’ve understood what the other person has said. That means that you also need to practice your listening skills.

In fact, good listening skills are so essential that some may say that they are the most important thing you need to succeed in negotiations. Why?

Well, when the other person feels that you are listening to them, they feel as if you respect them. And respect helps build trust. Trust is an essential element of successful negotiations.

You can easily improve your English listening skills at home or while going to work.

Watch movies and TV shows in English. But turn those subtitles off. You’ll only find yourself reading them and not listening to what the actors are saying. You know what I’m saying is true.

On your way to work, listen to English language radio stations and/or podcasts.

And if possible, try to listen to those who have the same accent as the people with whom you will be negotiating. If you’ll be negotiating with native English, for example, then listen to material from their country and region.

Non-native English speakers have an accent of their own. So if the other party falls into this category, try to find a way to listen to this accent.

In the end, your goal is to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible.

Step 2: Have the Negotiation Meeting

The negotiations meeting has several predictable language elements. You’ll have to:

  • Welcome the other side and build a relationship
  • Suggest a procedure
  • Make a proposal
  • Respond to suggestions
  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • Present your reasoning
  • Provide reassurance
  • Hint at your position
  • Clarify
  • Identify obstacles
  • Compromise
  • Delay
  • Refuse a proposal
  • Accept a proposal

The list may look long, but there’s no need to worry.

You can learn what to say in English before the negotiations take place.

The language of compromise

As you practice the phrases, pay close attention to the language of compromise. This language involves making concessions and counter offers. You’ll find these phases useful:

  • We were hoping for….
  • I am afraid that is out of the question. (That’s not possible)
  • I don’t think that we could go that far.
  • I understand where you are coming from, but…
  • I see your point, however…
  • There may be some room to maneuver (move), if you….

But even once you’ve learned the language for these phrases, you’ll still have to do something else. After all, you don’t want to repeat the mistakes that happened during the 1994 baseball season.

Strategies for successful negotiations

Instead, try following the suggestions of Lt. General Lazaro Sumbeiywo who served as chief mediator in the peace process between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army.

His experience has led to the 10 strategies and 7 tactics that will help you negotiate successfully. His list is long, so I’ve summed it up with the following five points:

  • Keep it friendly. You can practice doing that by restating what the other person has just said during the negotiation meeting before adding on your own ideas. You won’t sound strange at all by repeating. Native language speakers also use this technique to improve their listening skills. And the person you are speaking to will enjoy the conversation even more, because of the great respect they feel you are showing them.
  • Be confident. Remember the body language practice that you did doing the preparation phase? Now is one of the times to use it.
  • Negotiate in smaller chunks of time and issues. If you created your agenda to focus on the main issue, you’ve already accomplished this goal. You only have to focus on specific issues, and you only have to negotiate for a certain amount of time. Focus your practice on the issues on the agenda and save separate issues for later meetings
  • Don’t give in or accept “no” for an answer. Now it’s time to use the language of compromise. Review what you learned in the preparation stage about how the other side sees the issue and what you want. Where is there room to compromise? Use the language of comprise to help you avoid the word “No.”
  • Know when to walk away. This isn’t a tactic that you want to use often. If the other side doesn’t keep their promise during the negotiations, you have a good reason to walk out (leave). Otherwise, only threaten to walk out if the other side really thinks that you won’t come back to the negotiations table.

Your body language and tone can convey this message. So practice a solid stance that shows that you mean what you say.

Step 3: Close and summarize all of the points

During the final phase of the meeting you will need to summarize, and then say goodbye.

Take a look at the following examples. They will give you an idea of what to say.

  • So we will … and you will…
  • It’s been a pleasure.
  • Let’s keep in touch.
  • Feel free to contact me anytime.
  • Ok so I’ll … and you ….
  • Great, thanks for your time.

You need to summarize in writing what you have agreed to do, plus any open issues that may still exist.

Once you have done that, give the summary to the other party to okay. Of course, allow them to to add anything they think should be included.

Once you have the final document, print it so that you have a paper record of the agreement.

Start preparing now. Good luck.


Tracy Bowens holds a TEFL Certificate and an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is currently a Visiting Professor at DeVry University and a freelance writer.

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