Idioms for negotiating

By Castells Immerscom | Business English

Nov 17

​Idioms for negotiating

Hi there, welcome back to The Art of Business English. Today we are going to look at idioms for negotiating. Negotiating is not something new, in fact most of us have to negotiate every single day of our working life. Furthermore, many negotiations take place in the home, between wife and husband, kids and parents.

As you can imagine, English has a wide range of idiomatic expressions for negotiating. Sometimes these expressions can be a little confusing for a non-native speaker.

Today at AOBE we are going to start by looking at some of the most common expression for negotiating in business.

At the end of the today’s lesson you will be able to do the following:

  • learn common idioms for negotiating
  • understand their meaning
  • understand in what context they are used and at what part of the negotiating phase

So, let’s get started with a look at some common idioms.

Opening the negotiation

When opening a negotiation, you should follow the following steps.

  • Welcome all participants.
  • Introduce each person from your team to the other team or if alone introduce yourself to the other person (Remember to use full name and job title).
  • Start with some small to, this helps everyone to get comfortable.
  • Set the agenda. Discuss in a brief summary what you are negotiating about.

State interests. Here you tell the other party briefly what you would like to achieve as a result of the talks.

Small talk Meaning Example
How’s tricks? How are things going? How’s things at work?
To feel under the weather Feel ill I feel a bit under the weather this week.
To be on top of the world Very excited and feeling good I’m on top of the world! I just got promoted.
To ask someone over Invite to your house You should come over some time with your family.
To drop in Visit unexpectedly Why don’t you drop in sometime?
To meet up Arrange to meet Let’s meet up when we close this deal.
To see the sights Tourism Have you seen the sights since you arrived?
Set the agenda Meaning Example
To get the ball rolling Get started Let’s get the ball rolling.
To kick off Begin Who wants to kick things off?
To go over the agenda Review the agenda I think we should start by going over the agenda
To wrap things up Finish I hope to have the meeting wrapped up by 3pm.

Stating interests Meaning Example
To be looking to… Have as an objective Our company is looking to diversify.
To take into consideration Consider An important thing to take into consideration is…
To be keen to… Be eager or willing Our company is keen to work with new talent.

Making ​proposals

At the proposal stage of a negotiation, delegates make proposals, react to them, and if they don´t agree with the suggestion made, they may offer a counter-proposal as an alternative. When reacting to proposals, using diplomatic language such as “I´m afraid that is not really what we had in mind” instead of “No, that´s not good enough” can help you sound less direct or negative. This can promote a good working relationship between you and your business partner, and is more likely to lead to a successful outcome in the negotiation.

Making proposals Meaning Example
To have a tight budget Limited amount to spend I know you’re on a tight budget, so I will offer you my lowest price.
To squeeze someone on cost Pressure someone on price The buyer really squeezed me on price per unit.
To provide someone with a quote Give someone a cost estimate Before we can proceed, we will need an official quote.
Bone of contention An unresolved problem There is still the bone of contention regarding delivery times.
To push it Be overly insistent or forward I don’t think we should push it, he is offering a good deal.
To draw the line Set a limit I draw the line at that price offering.
To have something in mind Be thinking about Do you have in mind what conditions we can offer?
To be afraid Be sorry I am afraid I can’t accept those conditions.
To lead to a successful outcome Reach a positive conclusion The negotiation led to a successful outcome for all parties.
To have some reservations about something Have concerns about I have some reservations about your last point.
To give ground Retreat Let’s give some ground and see if they will meet us halfway.

Reaching agreement

In order to reach an agreement, we need to use persuading and bargaining skills. We must listen carefully, and we should always check and clarify what the other person has offered, while at the same time giving reassurances.

When bargaining we often use conditionals. The first conditional suggests there is a more real possibility (If you give us a discount we will order more units…). This is much more probably than using the inversion (Were you to give us a discount then, we would order more units) or the second conditional.

Grammar notes

To form the first conditional, use if + (do) + will/can/may (do):

If you reduce the price, I will accept your offer.

To form the second conditional, use if + (did) + would/could/might (do):

If you reduced the price, I´d accept your offer.

At this stage of the negotiation it is advisable to give the condition before the offer because your counterpart will have to wait to hear what you have to say rather than interrupting.

Finally, learn to read between the lines. “I might meet Friday´s deadline”, does not necessarily mean “I will meet Friday´s deadline”.

Remember, will is a promise, whereas might is a probability.

Reaching agreement Meaning Example
To close a deal Formally conclude bargaining We finally closed the deal after 2 hours of negotiations.
To come to an agreement Reach agreement We came to an agreement on the last point.
A gentleman’s agreement A legally non-binding arrangement that is guaranteed only by a verbal or mutually understood agreement We made a gentleman’s agreement until the official papers are signed.
To reach an accord To agree Despite our differences we reached an accord.
An agreement in principle An agreement in which the general terms and/or conditions of a deal are accepted without the complete details having been specified or necessarily agreed upon. Even though we didn’t finish the negotiation, we reached an agreement in principle, which we will finalise next week.
Couldn’t agree more Total agreement I couldn’t agree more with what you said.

​So, there you have it, a quick overview of some idioms to use at the different stages of a negotiation. Of course, there are many more that we can learn. If you have some more idioms to add to the list, then please post them in the comments section below.

If you have any questions regarding these idioms, then please don’t hesitate to contact us. We will be more than happy to help you. Until next time, keep learning and improving your business English.

About the Author

Andrew Ambrosius is the Director of Castells Immerscom and The Art of Business English. A specialist in Business English training and online course development.