MED Magazine - Issue 26 - January 2005

Top Tips for Business English
Teaching negotiations skills

by Rosemary Richey


This month's Top Tips feature negotiations – a key communication skill for Business English students. At any level or stage of business, they will need to negotiate with their managers, colleagues or customers. Effective negotiation yields the ultimate reward in terms of the best deal for contracts, salaries and other business transactions or activities.

Language level

The language and skills featured here are appropriate for upper intermediate and advanced levels.


1 Review the overall steps of negotiations with the students. Assign pairs one step each and ask them to come up with two important points about it.
starting up
  proposing the agenda
  setting and clarifying positions
  dealing with conflict
  making proposals
  closing and agreeing
2 Invite students to share their ideas with the whole class. This will give them a basis for considering the impact of communication skills combined with the right language for negotiations.

Language and skill components

Successful negotiations rely on the appropriate and correct language and skill. The following list names key functions and useful language for basic negotiations.

A Basic negotiations

function language
starting up I wondered if I could start by mentioning/saying ...
We've got a busy agenda ahead of us, so why don't we start up?
If you don't mind, let's get started
/down to business.
proposing the agenda As we see it, the main objective of our meeting is ...
We're looking to accomplish
/achieve ...
We've come up with
/drawn up an agenda.
There are
/We've got four/five items on the agenda.
We'd like to go over ... first
/then ... last.
setting and clarifying positions ... will give a presentation/a brief outline of ...
... is going to take notes
... would like to say a few words about ...
Please feel free to interrupt
/to ask questions.
If anything is unclear, please ask me.
Do we agree to discuss ...?
If we understand you correctly, you're interested in
/you'd like (to) ...
dealing with conflict We're afraid that ...
Perhaps we could ... instead of ...
Maybe we could consider ...
That sounds a bit
/little risky.
making proposals We propose/suggest/advise ...
I think we should ...
Why don't we ...?
How about
/What about ...?
bargaining If you are unable/can't ... we'll have to look/go elsewhere.
We're prepared to offer you ...
We could consider ...
... as long as ...
... on one condition ...
... provided that ...
... unless you ...
closing and agreeing Let's recap on our main points.
We've agreed to the following ...
We still have some outstanding issues such as ...
Do you agree with our summary?
Is there anything you'd like to add?

B General language points

1 Negotiation language makes full use of sequencing and linking. In preparing and discussing agendas, students practise starting out (Our main objective is ...) and going through the whole procedure (There are five items ... first(ly), second(ly), then, furthermore, moreover, lastly, finally).

2 The conditional forms are the cornerstone of negotiations. For proposals, offers and bargaining, the first and second conditionals are frequently used (If you accept the price, we will ... If you gave us a deposit for the order, we could/would ...).

3 In making proposals and suggestions students will rely on the use of polite forms such as We would ... Would you mind if ... Could we ... May we ...?

Teaching ideas and resources

Try the following tips when preparing and practising negotiations with your students:
To start off a discussion and practice of negotiations, have students brainstorm about everyday negotiating that goes on in their personal and professional lives. Make up a class list with students contributing one or two ideas. Elicit what makes their own negotiations successful.
Find a topic for negotiations from the latest business news. Assign roles to the students in teams of 3-4 and get them to discuss every aspect of the issue. Let the students practise in one class meeting and then allow two full class periods to complete the entire negotiation. Have them do peer observation and give feedback on the different stages and the language used.
Videotaping any negotiation provides a good opportunity for students to assess their strengths and weaknesses.
Have students find information on the Internet about professional negotiators in law, business or politics. From their findings, compile in class a list of sectors and jobs that rely on negotiations. Discuss what makes a good negotiator.

More in this issue

You'll find the following related material in this issue:
Activities for practising vocabulary related to negotiations
Teacher's notes and answer key for the activities

Next in the series

The next issue of MED Magazine will include some useful tips on socializing.

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