Useful Business English phrases for negotiation

If you’re studying Business English or working in an international setting, it’s likely you’ll need to learn how to negotiate effectively to get the outcome you want or need. Negotiation can seem challenging – especially when it’s not just the language you need to consider. It’s also about maintaining respect, politeness and cultural sensitivity. Both intonation and body language also play important roles. This makes the negotiation process even more tricky. 

However, it’s important to realise that you probably already have some foundational language skills and English for negotiating. For example, you probably already know how to ask for and give ideas, express agreement or disagreement and how to express your opinion. The structures of these sentences can be adapted to fit a business negotiation context.

Let’s look at some useful business English negotiation phrases you can use for different purposes, and to structure your discussion. 

1. Make small talk

Before you start talking business, it’s common to engage in a bit of conversation with the person or people you’re going to be negotiating with. This is called small talk. You could talk about things like the weather or your journey to the meeting if you’re face-to-face, for example. Topics like these can be effective icebreakers. However, you should avoid potentially sensitive topics like politics or personal issues. 

You could say things like:

  • It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?
  • There was a lot of traffic on the road today.
  • How was your weekend?

2. Discuss proposals

Starting a business discussion often involves proposing ideas or asking the other person or people for their ideas. You could say business English negotiation phrases like:

  • We’re looking for/interested in (partnering on this project).
  • We’d like to propose/suggest (meeting again next month).
  • What ideas do you have about (the schedule for the project)?
  • We’d like to hear your suggestions/ideas (regarding the timeline). 

3. Agree or disagree

Responding to proposals involves showing agreement or stating your disagreement, always in a respectful way. 

  • That sounds (reasonable/feasible/suitable).
  • That could (potentially) work with what we are looking for.
  • I’m afraid that isn’t quite what we had in mind.
  • I feel we should go/take another direction. 

4. Give counter proposals

In situations where a proposal doesn’t fit or suit what you want or need, offering an alternative is a productive way forward. You can use business negotiation vocabulary such as:

  • What do you think about (increasing the budget instead)?
  • Rather than (quarterly reviews), how about (we consider annual ones)?
  • Why don’t we (add an extra week to the schedule, in case of unexpected issues)?

5. Come to a compromise

Sometimes, neither side’s proposal works, so you’ll need to agree to compromise. This means you’ll both need to accept some terms that aren’t ideal, but that work for both of you.

  • Could we combine our idea (of digital promotion) with your (in-store campaigns)?
  • We might be able to (extend the deadline if more resources are provided).

6. Clarify terms

To avoid confusion later on, you’ll need to ensure everyone has a shared understanding of what you’ve agreed on. 

  • Let me make sure everything is clear (– you’re suggesting a 10% discount for a year-long contract, right?)
  • Just to clarify, (we said that the trial period would be for six months)?
  • So, to check that we’re on the same page, (the delivery will be in batches, correct)?

7. Conclude the negotiation

It’s important to conclude the negotiation by restating the agreed points. This ensures everyone has the same understanding of the situation. Use business English negotiation phrases like:

  • So, we have decided to (launch the product in December and review its performance in March).
  • Just to recap, (we’re looking at a joint venture with shared branding).

Learning how to negotiate successfully takes practice, but with these business English negotiation phrases you’ll be able to feel confident in your negotiating abilities and have a structure to follow for your discussion. 

Do you have any other phrases you’d add for effective negotiations? Add your ideas below! 

Read this article to find out more about using English as an international language. 

For even more help with your business English skills, you can try the English Coach app. With quick and targeted challenges, you’re in control of your learning journey. The personalised coach supports, corrects and encourages you at every stage.

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Put the phrases under the correct heading. 

Make small talk  Discuss proposals Agree or Disagree  Counter Compromise  Clarify  Conclude
  1. Rather than … how about …?
  2. To check we’re on the same page … 
  3. We’d like to suggest … 
  4. It’s a lovely day, isn’t it? 
  5. I’m afraid that … 
  6. Just to recap … 
  7. We might be able to … 


Make small talk  Discuss proposals Agree or Disagree  Counter Compromise  Clarify  Conclude

It’s a lovely day, isn’t it? 


We’d like to suggest … 


I’m afraid that … 


Rather than … how about …?


We might be able to … 


To check we’re on the same page … 


Just to recap … 

Billie Jago is an ELT writer and teacher trainer, specialising in digital & assessments. She is the founder of the professional development podcast ELTcpd and co-founder of the digital ELT content agency, otterelt.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

Every year we help millions of people around the world to learn English. As a department of the University of Oxford, we further the University’s objective of excellence in education by publishing proven and tested language learning books, eBooks, learning materials, and educational technologies.

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