Your choice of language can have a powerful effect on the outcome of a negotiation. For example, compare the following:
We reject your offer.>I‘m afraid at this point we would be unable to accept your offer.
Take a look at the following ways of making what you say in a negotiation more diplomatic:
1. Modals: would, could, may, might
- This is a problem.> This would be a problem.
- Of course, there’s a disadvantage to this.> Of course, there could be a disadvantage to this.
In both examples above the speaker sounds less direct, but in the first example the message doesn’t change. This would be a problem still means it is a problem! But it sounds better.
2. Qualifiers: slight, a bit, rather, a few, etc.
- There may be a delay.> There maybe a slight delay.
- We’re disappointed with the discount on offer.> We’re rather disappointed with the discount on offer.
Qualifiers soften the impact of bad news, but don’t actually change it.
3. Rephrased negatives 1: not very, totally, completely+positive adjective
- We’re unhappy with this arrangement.> We’re not very happy with this arrangement.
- I’m unconvinced.> I’m not totally convinced.
4. Rephrased negatives 2: unable, not able, not in a position to
- We can’t go any higher than 8%.> We’re unable to go any higher than 8%.
- We won’t accept anything less.> We’re not in a position to accept anything less.
Try to avoid using can’t and won’t. They make you sound powerless and obstructive.
5. Negative question forms: shouldn’t we….?, wouldn’t we….? etc.
- We should be working together on this.> Shouldn’t we be working together on this?
- You’d be taking an enormous risk.> Wouldn’t you be taking an enormous risk?
6. Comparatives: -er, more, less
- We’re looking for something cheap. > We’re looking for something cheaper.
- Would you be prepared to consider this?> Would you be more prepared to consider this?
The use of comparatives makes what you say sound more negotiable.
7. Softeners: unfortunately, I’m afraid, to be honest, with respect, etc.
- This doesn’t meet our needs.> Unfortunately, this doesn’t meet our needs.
- You don’t quite understand.> With respect, you don’t quite understand.
Softeners at the beginning of a statement signal bad news. With respect is a particularly bad sign!
- That’s our position.> That’s our position at the moment.
- I don’t think we can go any further at this stage.
Using a restrictive phrase does not exclude the possibility of future movement.
9. The passive: it was understood, it was assumed, etc.
- You said you were ready to sign.> It was understood you were ready to sign.
- We thought you had accepted these terms.> It was assumed you had accepted these terms.
By avoiding the use of statements beginning You said…. and We thought … and using passive forms instead, you depersonalise the situation and reduce the amount of personal responsibility or blame.
* Remember NEVER get personal in negotiations or debates, it’s a non-starter and will only lead to conflict, hightened emotions and a breakdown in smooth communications.
10. The -ing form: were aiming, had been hoping, etc.
- We aimed to reach agreement today.>We were aiming to reach agreement today.
- We had hoped to see some movement/progress on price.> We had been hoping to see some movement on price.
Using the Past Continuous keeps your options open – you were aiming to reach agreement and still are. The Past Perfect Continuous closes the door a little more – you’ve stopped hoping, but could be persuaded to hope again.
From this blog on The Language of Diplomacy you are invited to consider the fact, that, it’s not what you say, but how you say it. The next time you are engaged in either a negotiation or a debate please consider the above information.
Speaking English as a second language is indeed an admirable achievement, however knowing how to use English in a professional way, requires an indepth understanding, and of course, lots of practise!
So good luck with your English language learning.