#254: How to Successfully Negotiate in English | 4 Strategies + 20 Essential Phrases

Oct 12, 2022 | Business Professional English

How many times have you negotiated in the past year? 

You might be thinking: never. I don’t negotiate in English at work.

But think outside of your work environment.

If you’re having a hard time, count how many times you’ve done the following in the past 12 months:

  • Requested a change in your work schedule
  • Bought or sold a home
  • Asked for an extension on a deadline
  • Requested a pay raise
  • Convinced your spouse to take the kids to their after-school activities
  • Worked to get your kids to get dressed for school on time

If you’ve gotten past 3, you’ve likely realized that negotiations occur in every manner, every single day. 

Being a skilled negotiator will not only help you to create value at work but will also help you resolve conflicts in any relationship. 

Learning to successfully negotiate in English will help you further develop the ability to comprehend and respond to other English speakers in a thoughtful manner — whether it’s negotiating a schedule with a coworker or trying to get your granddaughter to eat broccoli at the dinner table.

By the end of this lesson, you will learn 4 tips and 20 essential phrases to confidently and successfully negotiate in English.

How to Successfully Negotiate in English

Strategy 1: Identify Your Ultimate Goal, Limits, and Alternatives

Prior to entering a negotiation, determine your ultimate goal.

Ask yourself the following question:

  • What do I want the outcome of this negotiation to be?

When you answer the question, provide a straightforward answer with no bells and whistles (= no enhancements, special additions, or frills).

  • Ex. I want a raise that matches my workload and expertise.  


That said, not all negotiations will end with your ideal outcome. Compromise may be required and an alternative may need to be considered.

To go in prepared for every possible outcome, determine the minimum or alternative which will bring satisfaction, even if the ideal outcome doesn’t manifest from the negotiation process.

Essentially, identify your bottom line – the ideal, final outcome – but also be prepared with a minimum that will satisfy you.

The following phrases are useful when communicating this:

  • I/We draw the line (= to set a boundary, rule, or limit) at X because of Y. 
  • X is non-negotiable because of Y.
  • Anything less than X does not meet my/our needs, since Y.
  • I’m willing to meet you halfway (= to compromise or concede to some things to gain other advantages) at X, but anything less than that will not meet my needs. 


Scenario #1: Perhaps, you’re negotiating a raise and the company doesn’t agree with your proposal. Instead, they offer you the same salary with better benefits.

At that point, you may say, “An increase in my salary is non-negotiable because it would ensure I’m able to keep up with the current cost of living in this city and that it matches my current workload.”


To help you consider all possible outcomes and factors, ask yourself the following questions before you finalize your bottom line:

  • What do I (or, my company) want from this negotiation?
  • What is the bottom line?
  • Why is this goal or result important for me/us?
  • What will happen if I am not successful in reaching my goal?
  • Are there any alternative agreements or compromises I’m willing, and not willing, to accept?
  • What alternatives or compromises can I propose, if necessary?
  • What kind of relationship do I have with the other party? And do I want to keep a good relationship after the negotiation?
  • What are the consequences if I win or lose this negotiation?


Remember, in English-speaking culture, it’s often equally important to reflect on how you’d like everyone to feel at the end of a negotiation. Particularly, if you value the relationship between you or your company, and the other side.

To do this, prioritize solutions or outcomes that create a win-win situation or a feeling of mutual success.

Strategy #2: Find Common Ground & Build Rapport

To establish a feeling of mutual success from the beginning of the negotiation process, prioritize building rapport and gaining trust with the other side. 

When you enter negotiations, the relationship between you and the other party should help guide your approach. 


Start off with small talk to help you establish common ground (= mutual or shared interest). Incidentally, this is also a great way to feel out (= to cautiously gain knowledge of a person’s POV or feelings associated with a situation) the person sitting on the other side of the table. 

The following questions are helpful conversation starters for building rapport:

  • How has your day/week been so far?
  • I heard you [verb]. How was the experience?/How is it going?
  • I noticed [insert observation]. What do you enjoy most about X?

Ex. Scenario #2:  Imagine you’re meeting with a potential buyer for your product and feel awkward after shaking hands and sitting down.

To break the ice, you might say, “In coordinating this meeting today, I had the opportunity to interact with a number of your team members. Everyone was so well-organized! What’s the secret?

Strategy #3: Understand the Other Side

As you enter your negotiations, it’s essential to strive for insight on the other side’s point of view, demands, and reasons.

Why should you know the other side?

Knowing the other side will help you make informed decisions, weigh your options (= to consider the pros and cons of each option thoroughly when considering two or more options), and prepare impactful supporting arguments throughout the negotiation process. 


To successfully gain insight on the motives driving the other side, stick to asking open-ended questions that focus on the ‘why’ behind a statement:

  • What do you think is a fair and reasonable solution/outcome/number? Why? 
  • Could you please tell me more about how you arrived at X?
  • Why do you believe X?
  • How do you feel about this aspect of X?
  • Why is X important to you? 
  • What part of my proposal causes concern or hesitance?


Strategy #4: Establish Trust 

Finding common ground, building rapport, and asking open questions are all key to establishing trust. 

In addition to the aforementioned tips, the following techniques are useful for gaining trust:

Tip #1: Speak Directly and Concisely

Remember avoiding the bells and whistles when establishing your needs in Tip #1?

Well, the same clarity, directness, and conciseness will be appreciated by the other side.

This means using concrete and straightforward language to express your thoughts, goals, and needs. To do this successfully, avoid ranges and share concrete numbers, dates, results, etc.

Ex. Rather than say:

We’d be satisfied if the project is completed within 3-4 months.

We require the project to be completed by January 5, 2023.

By expressing your thoughts in a straightforward manner, you acknowledge the importance of the other side’s time. Not only does this reduce ambiguity, but it also reduces the chances of miscommunication.


Tip #2: Show Interest & Openness

Sincerity and honesty go a long way in producing successful negotiations.

Instead of bending the truth (= to mislead; to leave out certain facts in order to gain a specific response), focus on honestly sharing your reasoning and thoughts.

Remember, as much as you want to understand the other side, the other side also wants to understand you.

Think back to your answers to the pre-negotiation questions in Tip #1 and share your thoughts with the other side.

Your sincerity will help both sides to come to a mutual, satisfying decision.


Tip #3: Actively Listen

Nothing is more genuine and important than engaging in active listening.

Prior to diving into your points, ensure you’ve understood the other side by asking clarifying questions, such as the following:

  • You’re saying X. Is that correct? 
  • If I understood you correctly, you think X. Am I right? 
  • What I heard you say was X. Have I understood you well? 
  • Could you please clarify what you mean by X? 

While listening to the other side, use vocal cues (i.e. mhm, ah, I see, true, good point, I understand, right), body language (i.e. nodding, leaning towards the speaker, maintaining eye contact), and avoid interrupting to demonstrate complete respect and attention towards the speaker. 

Moreover, summarizing and echoing the other side’s main points will also demonstrate your sincerity and ensure clarity is maintained. To summarize, the following phrases are useful:

  • I understand. So what you’re saying is X.
  • Ok, so you would like/prefer X.
  • So you’re telling me that your company needs X. 


Ex. Scenario #3: Imagine your travel buddy wants to change your itinerary for the last day. They share that the new itinerary will ensure you visit all the attractions before your leave.

You might say and clarify, “I understand. So what you’re saying is to leave the tourist attractions for the final day since a weekday will mean that there is less of a crowd. Is that right?”


Tip #4: Use Inclusive Language

Consider the following sentences:

I want a solution that satisfies these conditions.

– We need a solution that satisfies these needs.

Inclusive language that focuses on ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ will decrease the chances of alienating the other side.

Instead of setting the tone for a win-lose situation, you’ll improve the chances of negotiating a deal that satisfies both sides.

After you watch…

I have 2 questions for you. Consider what you learned and share

  • An example of how you negotiate at work and outside of work. What are your go-to negotiation techniques? 
  • Which of the tips and phrases from today’s lesson will you be using the next time you negotiate?

You can share your thoughts – and your questions for me – in the comments below.

      ~ Annemarie


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