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5 things to say and 5 things not to say in a negotiation

14th June 2017

What you say and how you say it is critical to success in negotiations. Language can be used as a source of power in negotiations both acting for you or against you. Check the following list to see if you are saying these things during your negotiations.

Things To Say

Say Nothing. Yes one of the things to say in negotiations is to say nothing at all, at least whilst the other party is making an offer. In fact, listen intently to what your counterpart is offering, listen to the exact words they are saying and how they are saying it. What are they telling you? Can you offer them what they really want without having to negotiate? Also, saying nothing and remaining silent can sometimes draw more offers out from your counterpart as they attempt to fill the silence.

Say “Thank you”. Thanking your counterpart for their offer without interruption shows you have listened to their offer and you have considered it, irrespective of whether you have accepted it or not. It shows that you are in control of your emotions and your responses, and probably in control of the negotiation itself, which can increase your balance of power.

Say “Subject to agreeing the other areas.” Make the acceptance of any of your counterpart’s offers dependent upon gaining agreement on all offers. This gives you the freedom to go back and open up negotiations which have just been agreed should other variables not be to your liking. It basically keeps all variables in play for the length of the negotiation.

Say “We have alternative courses of action should we not reach agreement,” but I’m sure you can understand why I can’t discuss those with you at this time.” This signals that you have a BATNA but don’t reveal it in detail or you may find that your counterpart may try to counteract its effect.

Say “We are nearly there”… 5p off per case can allow us to reach a deal worth £10m”. Encourage your counterpart to continue making offers and compromises, showing how a little bit more can seal a much bigger deal.

Things Not To Say

Don’t say “About…” In everyday language with friends, family & colleagues we will use soft language like “about”, “probably”, “between”, “close to”, “approximately”… but in a negotiation using soft language can give away too much to your counterpart about your intentions. For example, using “about £20” indicates that it is in fact not specifically £20. Consequently, your counterpart will take more of the value from you because of that loose language, say £21, £22, £23 or £24, assuming your counterpart values a higher price.

Don’t say “My first offer is…”  Steer clear of flagging your offers. By saying “My first offer is…” implies you have at least a second, probably a third, maybe even a fourth offer planned. With these clues your counterpart may say “No” several times to flush out all of the offers.

Don’t say “The best I can do…” Give a wide berth to making your first offer a demand or back yourself into a corner. It can be tempting to come out hard in your first offer, to set the psychological bar high, but by doing so you have limited movement to come to an agreement. This will only really work where the balance of power is so much in your control that they have to do it. However, that may mean that counterpart resents accepting this offer and will therefore not live up to the agreement which is, ultimately, a waste of energy.

Don’t say “Our alternative course of action is worth 65.” We do advocate saying that you have an alternative but we also advocate you avoid disclosing what the value of your BATNA actually is. If you disclose the precise value of your BATNA then you can expect an offer from your counterpart at the level of your BATNA, since you’ve just told them what the value of your alternative is. They are unlikely to offer more as this would mean them losing money. Only in rare situations should you reveal the value of your BATNA – at the eleventh hour of stalled negotiations and just before you walk away; or if your BATNA is so powerful that you simply want the counterpart to match your BATNA.

Don’t say “You can shove your offer.” Don’t insult your counterpart’s offer. Some of the old school tactics of insulting or backhanded compliments may make you feel tough at first, but they can backfire on you. Take the upper hand and remain in control of your emotions and indeed the negotiation, even if the other party goes down the route of insulting you or your offer.


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