Negotiating in English – tips and phrases (for beginners)

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Working within a central purchasing and logistics business unit, NEGOTIATION is a word that one cannot escape. Most of my participants have dealings with suppliers within Germany, though some negotiate with suppliers worldwide. Negotiation skills are a key part of the on-the-job training and support that I deliver. In this post, I’ve collected some basic negotiating “musts” that I use in my training.

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Preparation is the first key factor for all negotiations. In order for you negotiation meeting to be a success you must have clear goals in mind, acceptable alternatives and possible solutions, what you’re willing to trade, and finally what your bottom line is- where you are not prepared to budge. In “negotiations-speak”: You need to know your BATNA.

Start positive

Highlight all the positive goals both parties want to achieve for the day to reduce any tense atmosphere and break the ice with some healthy small talk.

  • Our aim today is to agree on a fair price that suits both parties.
  • I’d like to outline our aims and objectives…
  • How do our objectives compare to yours?

Effective questioning

Ask open ended questions in order to establish what the other party wants. Use questions to dig deeper, to uncover needs, to reveal alternative options, etc.

  • Could you be more specific?
  • How far are you willing to compromise?
  • Where does your information come from?


When your counterpart makes an acceptable suggestion or proposal you can agree to show enthusiasm and highlight how you are mutually benefiting from something. Revealing your stance will also help come to a favourable negotiation.

  • That seems like a fair suggestion.
  • I couldn’t agree more.
  • I’m happy with that.


Disagreements are a normal and positive part of building a relationship and coming to an agreement, they show transparency. It is always a good idea to anticipate possible disagreements before going into a negotiation meeting.  However, disagreements should not come across threatening but instead should be mitigated and polite.

  • I take your point, however…
  • I’m afraid we have some reservation on that point…
  • I would prefer …


In order to avoid any misunderstandings especially in an environment where English is the lingua franca, it is fundamental to be clear about your goals but also ask for clarification when something isn’t clear to you.

  • If I understand correctly, what you’re saying is …
  • I’m not sure I understand your position on…
  • What do you mean by … ?


Compromising is often required at times during a negotiation, and the way you do it is often an indicator of the importance of some of the negotiation terms. Remember, when you do compromise consider getting something for giving.

  • In exchange for….would you agree on..?
  • We might be able to work on…
  • We are ready to accept your offer; however, there would be one condition.


This is the moment to debate price, conditions or a transaction where one must be firm, ambitious and ready to justify their offers.  In this stage you can employ hard ball tactics or a softly softly approach, either way being prepared with a strategy will take you to the winning road.

  • I’m afraid we can only go as low as…
  • From where we stand an acceptable price would be…
  • Our absolute bottom line is …


There are key moments when summarising will take place during a negotiation; concluding discussion points, rounds of bargaining and the final commitment.  This stage is also the moment of agreeing on the next steps and it is vital not to leave anything unsaid.

  • Let’s look at the points we agree on…
  • Shall we sum up the main points?
  • This is where we currently stand …

Of course…

There’s a lot more to negotiating. Sometimes not saying anything is a valuable approach, while creating and claiming value is also a must. Feel free to contact us if you’re interested in learning more about what we can do for you/your team. Or keep an eye on this blog, for more negotiation tips and phrases.

I’ll leave you with another great piece of free content: 1001 Meetings phrases.

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The negotiator’s dilemma

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The most fundamental aspects of negotiation strategy are Creating and Claiming Value. In a negotiation, all parties involved must decide to be competitive, cooperative, or a combination of both. David Lax and James Sebenius called it the Negotiator’s dilemma: Lax and Sebenius argue that negotiation necessarily includes both cooperative and competitive elements, and that these elements exist in tension with each other. Negotiators face a dilemma in deciding whether to pursue a cooperative or a competitive strategy.The best outcome for one person is not necessarily the best outcome for the other person. If all parties involved pursue their best option, they will often end up getting the worst outcome. Here they are, explained.

The big (free) eBook of negotiations language

“Like it or not, you are a negotiator. Negotiation is a fact of life.” With those words, the world was introduced to, what is now arguably the most famous book about negotiations in the world: “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Creating Value: Making the pie bigger

All negotiators face two basic questions: “How can we make the pie bigger?” and “How can I make sure that I get the biggest possible piece?” The pie is enlarged (value is created) through the cooperative process of  interest-based bargaining. Good negotiators find ways to increase their mutual gain. They see themselves as problem solvers. When everyone involved in the negotiation profits, it’s a win/win negotiation. Inventing options for mutual gain is the essence of the win/win philosophy.

To create this mutual gain, the negotiator:

  • Finds shared interests
  • Focuses on the big picture
  • Shares information openly
  • Develops options
  • Avoids criticism
  • Builds principle agreements
“Negotiation is always part of the equation. As I entered adulthood I found out that life is not as simple as yes or no. Everything involves negotiation, give-and-take: If we see this film this Saturday, can we see that concert next Saturday? I can prepare the presentation, but could I get it to you on Thursday not Wednesday?”
Gary Anello

Claiming Value: Dividing the pie

At some point, the knife must come out with all parties wanting the biggest possible piece of the pie. The more one claims, the less the other gets. The competitive process of claiming value is also known as win/lose. Good negotiators use competitive tactics to make sure their piece stays as large as possible. He/she:

  • Might withhold information
  • Critically evaluates the demands of the other side
  • Applies (and resists) pressure
  • Exaggerates the value of own concessions / Minimizes value of other’s concessions
  • Takes a judicial approach

As is obvious, some of the cooperative strategies that create value directly oppose the competitive strategies used to claim value. As Fischer, Ury & Patton point out, “negotiators are not friends”; confrontation is sometimes unavoidable. The best deals are reached when both processes are allowed to operate. Only the most experienced of negotiators seem equally at ease with both phases. They accept that both processes are legitimate and necessary steps in getting the best results and understand that it is vital to “separate the invention process from the decision making process”.

Language that successful negotiators use

More negotiations language is available for you in my eBook: “The Big eBook of Negotiations Language”. Below are a few examples of language that you can use in each of the two stages that I discussed in this post.

Create value

  • Can we leave the costs to one side for a moment and just try to picture an ideal result?
  • Before we go into details, can we establish the kind of result we are both looking for?
  • We have discussed one option in some detail. What other options might be available?

Claim value

  • We seem to have an agreement in principle; it is probably time to ask who is responsible for what?
  • I think we agree on the broad picture, but who is going to pay for what?
  • We now have a concept that covers both of our interests; let’s get practical.


The walk from no to yes

William Ury, author of “Getting to Yes,” offers an elegant, simple (but not easy) way to create agreement in even the most difficult situations — from family conflict to, perhaps, the Middle East.

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Please contact us learn how you can improve your negotiating skills, or read more here: Effective negotiations in English


The Naked Negotiator – and the one thing you must do when preparing for a negotiation

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We all know the dream. You find yourself at school in your pyjamas; you are making a presentation without any clothes – or you go into a negotiation without a BATNA.

What is BATNA and why do you need one when preparing to negotiate?

If there is just one thing where the Harvard Negotiation Project has left its mark, it is their concept of identifying a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA ). BATNA wasn’t and isn’t  a revolutionary idea –  alternatives, plan B, options, bottom line and so on have been around for years. Yet BATNA seemed to capture the hearts and minds of negotiators worldwide, whether they be purchasers, sales professionals, HR, project managers or business owners. BATNA is the one thing you must do when preparing to negotiate.  BATNA

  • protects you against agreeing to a bad deal,
  • makes you carefully consider your negotiating position and the business case driving the negotiation,
  • forces you to develop feasible alternatives.

But do we always prepare our BATNA carefully enough?

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Is a BATNA always realistic?

When you want to buy a car, you have the choice of other makes and other dealers. If you want to repair your house, you ask for many quotations. What if you want to negotiate a pay rise with your boss and you do not have another job offer in your pocket? What if you are negotiating with a supplier in a seller’s market and the only alternative supplier has doubtful quality and a long lead time? Is a BATNA always realistic? From my own experience in delivering negotiation seminars, the perception that the other party has all the power and agreement is only possible on their terms is an all too common scenario.

Finding your BATNA – am example from the pharmaceutical industry

I recall working with some pharmaceutical executives who for the first time in their lives had to negotiate prices with the Verband der Gesetzlichen Krankenversicherung (GKV) or National Health Insurance Association. As one of the managers put it, “we no longer had a licence to print money”.  They felt they were approaching the negotiations with no alternative but “yes”.

Sure concessions had to be made on price without too much suffering, but did they really have a BATNA? Did they have a viable alternative to agreeing to an unfavourable deal? After brainstorming and discussions, they found there were some very powerful BATNAs available to big Pharma:

  1. Accept a lower price … but insist on volume share
  2. Refuse to market in Germany, i.e. to do the initial marketing in another European country and deprive German patients of access to this new drug.
  3. Agree to a less than ideal price, but restrict the quantity for the German market.
  4. Similar to point three, limit the drug to certain treatments, where a higher price could be argued.

The pharma negotiators had at the very least the feeling they had some control over the negotiating process and outcome. They were no longer naked negotiators.

No deal is better than a bad deal

When there is no obvious BATNA, then maybe no deal is better than a bad deal.. At the very least rational analysis substitutes negotiating by chance. And you won’t sit down at the negotiating table naked.

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Negotiation tactics – Why silence is golden

A few weeks ago I was chatting to a purchaser who worked in the automotive industry. The conversation drifted to the topic of negotiating and we began to compare countries and styles. The purchaser, a Norwegian, said half in jest but seriously enough, “You English cannot handle silence”. As a full-blooded Brit I can only agree. Many cultures, especially Scandinavians, are more comfortable with silence than others. But why is this? The impact of culture on how we communicate is certainly a factor. When I lived in Sweden I had the impression Swedes and Finns took a long time to thaw out and small talk consisted of a “Jaaaah”.  The English, on the other hand, feel uncomfortable with silence and will often fill the air with meaningless chatter.

The big (free) eBook of negotiations language

“A Finn and a Swede go into a sauna.  After 30 minutes the Swede says “It’s hot in here”.  The Finn replies “You Swedes – you talk too much.”

Why am I sharing this? If, like me, you’re from a culture where communication is direct, silence is a hard skill to master. But whether it’s a cultural norm, a question of personality, or even a trained skill, being comfortable with silence when negotiating is essential if you want to reach your goals.  When used in a subtle and careful manner, silence can reshape negotiations and extract surprising amounts of information while leaving your counterpart feeling they are in charge of the conversation.

Value added question + silence = insight

A good negotiator, no matter what nationality, will probably be assertive but charming, have good questioning skills, and handle pressure well. Questioning skills are a must – and here silence plays a role. Silence can prompt your counterpart to share more than they planned to – verbally or non-verbally.

Poor negotiators will often answer their own question: “What price were you thinking of? I was going to suggest something in the region of € 105 per unit.”. Poor negotiators do not ask enough value added questions – a value added question being one that makes the other party pause and consider, e.g. “How did you arrive at that figure?” “What are the consequences for your clients?” “How can we help you sell this concept inside your organisation?” Answering value added questions needs time. Use the silence to observe your partner.

You have the right to be silent

Let’s assume you have asked a good question and the other party is taking his/her time to answer. A few seconds is not a problem, but after ten it can become tense. Learn to look serene and confident, smile at the other party, look at your notes and scribble something. Stay connected to the other party with body language and eye contact. At some point the other party may buy time and say “I’ll get back to you.” Alternatively you can also suggest moving on to another point. But give silence a chance.

And if the roles are reversed you have the right to be silent. Do not shoot from the hip with a half-baked, badly thought through answer. Learn to be comfortable with silence. “I’m thinking this through”, “I’d like to explore this idea, give me a minute” or “I’ll get back to you.” will buy you time.

Learning to use silence in negotiations – the role of training and practice

Silence has to be practised and refined in training or coaching. Training helps you become aware of your relationship to silence; then develop the skills to use it subtly and effectively through role plays, real plays and critical incidents. Training goves you the opportunity to repeat situations and develop awareness, confidence and mechanisms for handling silence. You can practice asking the right questions, leaving room for the other party to develop a sensible answer, practice NOT shooting from the hip, and practice behavioural strategies that make the silence comfortable for both you and your opposite number.

And remember – when negotiating silence is not a threat; silence is golden.

Communicating across cultures – What’s in a name?

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Communicating across cultures begins with the understanding that one size does not fit all

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mediumDifferences in cultures, as we see so often, can lead to a host of great and small misunderstandings. Take something as simple as a name. It is entirely common in some German companies to use Mr. or Mrs, followed by the surname, even after years of working together. This custom can confuse a visitor from a different culture to the point that negotiations and/or meetings are less successful than they could have been – if only one of the parties had addressed the elephant in the room: How do we address each other?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”

What is perfectly acceptable in one culture may be perceived as too informal or unprofessional in another and that is also for true for the use of someone’s name. Business, conducted by Germans and non-Germans together can get complicated. Can you use first names in meetings? When? How do you know if it’s acceptable? If you ever find yourself in such a situation, here’s what you can do…

Don’t panic

When you do business in Germany, assume that ‘Mr..’ and ‘Mrs..’ is the norm. This may throw you, but don’t take this formality as a reflection on you or your business relationship. You should know that it’s very likely “Herr Jung” and “Frau Groß” use last names when they speak to each other, too. The silver lining is that it’s quite a leap forward in the business relationship if someone invites you to use his/her first name.

Take the initiative

Let people know how you would like to be addressed before that elephant shows its long-nosed face. When introducing yourself, give your full name first “Good morning, my name is Bette Ernst.”, then add a simple “Please, call me Bette.” This may seem too friendly, but it certainly establishes one of the most important things you may want them to know: you see them as an ally, a partner, and you want to work with them.

At this point the other person has two options:

  • They can take you up on your offer: “That’s very kind, Bette.” And they will probably follow up with an offer for you to call them by their first name: “And, please call me Al.
  • They can politely decline: “Thank you, but we prefer using surnames in this company” or “Thank you. But I think I’d feel better with Mrs. Ernst’.” Then you must keep using their surname, as well. Again, this is not a reflection on you. Some people just prefer to wait until they know someone well – beyond a first meeting – before they start using first names.

Better be safe than sorry

“When I speak to my boss in the office, in a regular conversation, I can use his first name. But in a meeting or in front of the other colleagues…no way!” That was what an Executive Assistant told me when I asked her if she referred to her boss by his first or last name. Always err on the side of safety. Authority and formality matter in a lot of cultures. If you might embarrass the person or call her stature or authority into question by using the first name, don’t do it. If you’re not sure, don’t do it. Again, if they offer to allow you to use their first name, it’s a big step. Well done!

Consider the big ‘but…’

If you expect the meeting to be especially contentious, if you have to negotiate with someone particularly difficult, if the meeting will involve a significant amount of disagreement, or if the discussion involves unpleasant topics, it’s probably better that you stick to more formal language.

Although offering to let others call you by your first name is a great way to immediately ‘warm up the room,’ I think it’s almost never a good idea to ask someone if you can use their first name. “May I call you Peter?” sounds polite enough, but it can put people on the defensive. They may feel you have “crossed a line” merely by asking. You can also suggest that everyone in the meeting use first names, but that’s a minefield you’d do well to avoid.

International business etiquette

Besides the large amount of cultural differences, there are also a large number of commonalities when it comes to doing business internationally. Here are two links:





Essential English phrases for purchasers

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“I need to do my job in English more and more” said one of my participants in a purchasing department. She was a lead buyer at a manufacturing company who had seen her company go through a rapid internationalization process when they merged. Global purchasing means that many purchasers now need to work comfortably and confidently in English to do their jobs effectively. Here are some essential phrases to support you.

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alfExpressing gratitude for submitting an offer

  • Thank you for your offer.
  • Thanks for responding so quickly.
  • Thanks for being willing to rework your original offer.

Dealing with long term partners

  • As you know, we have worked together successfully for many years now.
  • I can offer you these conditions because of our long standing working relationship.
  • We would certainly like to work with you on the project in the future, but the price conditions are currently too high / not low enough / don´t meet our requirements.

Next steps

  • The next step will be discussed at our weekly internal meeting.
  • I need to go to this meeting to get the approval for this project.
  • We will make our final decision during the meeting.
  • We will decide who our preferred supplier is at that time.
  • After we have evaluated all offers and decided which supplier(s) we will work with, we will start the legal contract negotiations.

Asking for deadline commitments

  • Could you give us an answer by next week?
  • How long do you think you need to create a new offer with better conditions?
  • Would it be possible for you to send me the new offer by (date) at the latest?
  • I would be grateful if you sent me the new offer next week.

The final steps

  • Thank you for the insightful conversation.
  • I´m still waiting for your new offer. / I’ll wait for your new offer.

Comparing competitors’ products

  • Both suppliers´ product features are comparable.
  • Both of you meet the product document specifications with your product.
  • The product document specifications can be attained / completed / fulfilled by both suppliers´ products.
  • So we have comparable offers to consider.

Explaining cost-related issues

  • Supply and demand determines the market price.
  • The market price is based on supply and demand.
  • We have contacted other suppliers on the market to see if your price is competitive.
  • Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that your prices are too high compared to the competition.

Identifying cost expectations

  • Now I have one question, which conditions can you offer us?
  • Which price range are we looking at?
  • Our target price is xx euros, which means a reduction in your original price offer of about x per cent.
  • In order to meet our target price, you would need to reduce your price by …Euros or … per cent.

Explaining reasons for an altered offer

  • I know that the amount of the reduction sounds very high, but do you see any way to reduce the price?
  • I´m afraid that you will have to reduce the price in order to be considered.
  • This is the last round of negotiations. We won´t do another one.
  • I would be grateful if you gave me your best price.

Requesting suppliers to rework their offer

  • I would be grateful if you checked your offer again. Could you possibly send me a new offer?
  • Perhaps you can´t answer this question at the moment. You can think it over, check with others in your company and get back to us with your answer.
  • Could you also check the license model? Could the price be reduced if we changed the license model?
  • Which options can you think of? Which possibilities can you think of?

Dealing with contract conditions

  • Could you possibly check the contract conditions which I sent with the inquiry?
  • Due to time constraints, it would be best if you accepted the standard or suggested contract with as few changes as possible.
  • I recommend accepting the standard suggested contract with as few changes as possible.
  • I would be grateful if you could give me a statement about the contract.

Negotiation Tips: Preparation

The motto “be prepared” might normally be associated with the Girl Guides, Scouts, and campfires, but it could just as well be adopted as a motto for a successful negotiation. Whether or not we are born negotiators, preparing ourselves for a negotiation is essential. But how do we go about preparing as simply as possible? How can we prepare if we don’t know what the other side will say, do, or want? At Target Training we tend to find it works best to divide preparation into two phases:

  1. What you do before you meet the other guy
  2. What you do when you meet the other guy

Or perhaps more elegantly, we can speak of preparation and bargaining. You may find it helpful to divide both steps into five main question areas. It may take time to work through these questions, but if you do, you are likely to find yourself in a more confident position and be prepared for any surprises.

5 Steps of preparation

1. What is your main objective?

(What do you really want to achieve?)

2. What is your alternative?

 (What options do you have if no deal is reached?)

3. What are your tradable points and their priorities?

 (In which areas can you give and take?

Which of these are most important?)

4. What are the trading limits?

 (When do you get up and leave?)

5. What if … ?

(What will the other guy say?)

5 Steps of bargaining

1. Set the scene

 (What is the framework of the negotiation?

What subjects are you going to talk about?)

2. Asking questions

 (What does the other guy want?

Why do they want it?)

3. Check comprehension

 (Are they clear what you want?

Are you clear what they want?)

4. Trading Concessions

– quid pro quo –

(What do I have that they want?

Can I exchange it for somethingthat I need?)

5. Summarize and Record

 (Are you sure that you agree on what you have agreed on?)

Why not try these steps out in preparation for your next negotiation. Tell us how it went. Would you change or add anything to the advice above?