How to Negotiate in English

How to Negotiate in English

by Laura Jones

Updated November 10, 2022

How do you start negotiating?

The song might tell you: “You can’t always get what you want.” But is that true? Negotiating is a fine art, and with the right skills you should be able to get what you want most of the time.

We actually negotiate all day, every day. With our colleagues and our boss (this is one you might lose), and with our family and friends. We even negotiate with our pets; who hasn’t asked their dog, ‘If I throw this stick one more time will you be ready to come home?’. 

So while you might be used to negotiating in your own language, negotiating in a foreign language can be quite tricky. So read on for some tips on how to negotiate successfully in English.

Aim high when negotiating

The first piece of advice is to aim high with your first offer. If you start higher than you know is reasonable, you will be willing to come down a lot more. 

Imagine you earn £30,000 a year and you want a raise. An extreme example would be going to your boss and saying, ‘I would like a raise of £15,000 a year.’ Your boss is likely to laugh you out of his office. But, if you really want a raise of £3,000 a year, then your boss will find this much more reasonable after your first crazy proposal. 

Ask open questions 

Ask questions which require more than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. This way you will gain information about who you are negotiating with, and what their main concerns are. 

Imagine that you are the boss in the previous scenario. You need to find out if your employee deserves the raise or not.

You could ask: ‘Could you tell me more about your achievements this quarter?’.

Or, ’Can you give me some specific details about the extra responsibilities you’re willing to take on if you get a raise?’  


Listen and learn to use silence

This isn’t really advice about improving your English, because it’s about closing your mouth, not opening it. 

A good teacher knows that they should talk as little as possible to allow their students to speak. In a negotiation, you should employ the same tactic. When you ask an open question, really listen to the answer. Most people are too busy thinking about the next thing they want to say, or the next thing they want to get. 

You might miss the fact that their main concern isn’t actually how much something costs, but rather whether the quality is worth the price.  don’t respond immediately. Remember, human beings hate silence and will rush to fill it. So your counter-negotiator will fill the silence with promises, reasoning, and perhaps even a better offer.

Sit it out. 

Negotiation phrases

Everyone wants to win in a negotiation but it’s impossible to get everything you want. Because that would mean the person you’re negotiating with gets nothing they want. What’s important is to make the outcome win-win. The way to do this is to offer something but ask for something in return. 

You can do this very directly by saying: ‘I would like to make a suggestion that will benefit both sides.’ 

You can often use conditionals to do this.

Remember our dog in the introduction? We said, ‘If I throw this stick one more time, will you be ready to come home?’. This is a use of the first conditional in negotiating. Remember we use the first conditional when we believe something will happen. In this case, your fluffy pal Rover is likely to agree to come home. 

How about this one? ‘I’m prepared to let you sleep at the end of my bed if you agree to bring me my slippers in the morning.’ A use of the zero conditional.

However, if you’ve managed to get a tougher dog, you might use the second conditional. Use this when you’re not sure your dog is going to agree with you: ‘Provided that you sat quietly, I would be willing to give you a small piece of my sausage.’ 

Disagreeing with the negotiation

Unfortunately, there will be times when you need to disagree with or reject the offer of the person you are negotiating with. Let’s look at some phrases to help you turn someone down.

“I would like a raise of 30%.”

I’m afraid that’s out of the question.”


“If you give me a raise of 20%, I will meet all of my deadlines on time.”

Your proposal is unacceptable. You should always meet your deadlines anyway.”


“If you gave me a raise, I would make you coffee every day.”

Unfortunately, we can’t accept your offer. Rob in marketing already brings us coffee every day.”

Accepting an offer

You’ve done it. Let’s imagine you’ve reached an agreement with your (talking) pooch. Now accept their offer with grace. 


“One biscuit and I’ll bring you your slippers?” 

I can go along with that.” 


“As agreed, here is the newspaper. I’ll take my bone into the corner.”

It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”


Negotiating is certainly a skill worth learning, whether you’re going to employ it at work or in your everyday life. So try out some of these phrases next time you really want something.

If you’d like to know more about negotiating in English, check out our English and Business English courses today. You could be on your way to a pay rise in no time. 

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