Language of Negotiation

The Archibalds are looking also for a new coffee supplier. They have been recommended a wholesale coffee company called Bright Coffee. They want to place a large order with them and, naturally, bargain the price down. Mr. and Mrs. Archibald have a daughter, Cassandra, with a fresh MBA degree. Cassandra is not just qualified, but also quite shrewd (like her mother, in fact), so she has taken up the challenge. She is going to discuss the business with Mr. Bernard Cuppie, the sales representative of Bright Coffee (and coincidently also the son of its owners). Apart from coffee, Bright Coffee sells also tea, chocolate drops to make hot chocolate, sugar, biscuits etc. Below is the negotiation between Cassandra and Bernard with examples of some common negotiation stages. Notice the highlighted language.

Useful Phrases

Here are some more useful negotiation phrases and functions they serve.


stating your interest/position

What we were looking for…

I was hoping for…

We would want to…

I can guarantee…



We’ll…, if you…

Would you be willing to meet us halfway?

If you went down with the price, we would…

Suppose we gave you a discount, would you…?



asking for clarification

Could you run through that again?

How’s that then?

What do you mean by…?

It depends what you mean when you say that…



rejecting a proposal, disagreeing

Come on, let’s be reasonable there.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any more room to negotiate this price.

No, I really don’t think so.

We just can’t agree to…



accepting a proposal, agreeing

Why not?

I think we could make something out here.

I suppose we could manage that.

That’s a deal.


The language of negotiation is essentially diplomatic language, phrased in a way that is polite, indirect and careful. Coming back to the dialogue between Cassandra and Bernard, let us consider this example: We were hoping for something around 20%. She didn’t say: We hoped for 20%. Or even: Give us 20% discount. The meeting would have probably finished much sooner without any deal. The use of continuous form plus the expression something around etc. was polite and gave both parties room to manoeuvre. Below are other examples of diplomatic language and their characteristics. Consider the difference between direct and indirect (or more diplomatic) phrasing.

Modals: would, could, may, might

This is a problem.

You don’t understand.

This would/might be a problem.

There may have been some misunderstanding…

Continuous verb forms

We aimed to reach agreement today.

We had hoped to see some movement in price.

We were aiming to reach agreement today.

We had been hoping to see some movement in price.

Modifiers: a bit, a little, rather, slight…

There is a delay.

We are disappointed with the discount offer.

There may be a slight delay.

We are rather/somewhat disappointed with the discount offer.

Introductory softeners: unfortunately, I’m afraid, to be honest, with respect

This doesn’t meet our needs.

You don’t quite understand.

I expected a more generous offer.


Unfortunately, this doesn’t meet our needs.

With respect, you don’t quite understand.

To be honest, I expected a more generous offer.

The passive

You said you were ready to sign.

We thought you have accepted these terms.

It was understood you were ready to sign.

It was assumed you had accepted these terms.