Words… The Currency of Negotiation

Published: May 19 , 2021
Author: Keith Stacey

Negotiation is a specialised form of communication to resolve a conflict. The means is talking to each other through using words. Like all currencies, the more words in circulation, the less valuable they are. A highly skilled negotiator avoids jargon and overly complex language in order to achieve clarity of meaning.


Many of us have unconsciously developed some key phrases which we think enhance communication, yet they actually camouflage our true meaning. Some of these phrases are:


  • To be honest…..
  • To be perfectly honest
  • To be frank and/or perfectly frank


If you can hear yourself in any of these, read on!


The phrases beg the question “If you are honest now, what were you before?” As negotiators, we build trust and phrases such as the ones listed, undermine it.


In the same way:


  • You are a valued customer/supplier/partner/employee
  • Can you sharpen your pencil?
  • Can you cut me some slack?
  • Is that your best offer?
  • Give us your best and final offer.


“If we are such a valued customer, why are you giving us a hard time?”


Sharpening pencils and asking for slack are so vague as to be meaningless; and, of course, the last two questions are closed. Who in their right mind is going to answer, “No I have a much better offer - when do you want that?”


All of us develop these speech patterns (or verbal tics) over time and the problem is that they become unconscious - we are often not even aware that we are constantly repeating them.


Of course, there is a time for a certain degree of vagueness in the initial stages of each negotiation when parties are exploring options and opportunities before they are confident enough to commit to solutions. In the argument stage of the negotiation, we express this uncertainty through signals:


  • I cannot agree at this stage.
  • I would find it difficult to accept your position.
  • We are happy to discuss this option.


These signals indicate possible areas of flexibility where we may be willing to make concessions in return for concessions from the other party. It is in the solution or proposal stage that we need to be direct and specific.


Our proposals should be easily understood and be capable of translation into contractual terms.


Avoid corporate-speak and jargon which finds its way into many forms of communications. The Financial Review recently gave this example from a bank presentation to investors:


“ …focused approach ensures a systematic cadence that adds velocity to benefit realisation.”


The Review translated to: “We collaborate to make heaps of money quickly(!)”


So, listen carefully to yourself, ask colleagues to provide you with feedback and eliminate those unhelpful ‘verbal tics’.


Happy Negotiating! 




2018 Keith 432

About the author:

Keith Stacey
Keith is a Principal Consultant with Scotwork and has over 30 years experience as a business consultant, educator and trainer. He is a regular consultant to senior executives in professional practice and his principal interests in management are strategic planning, project management, client-relationship management and conflict resolution.

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