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How to Use Idioms in Business Negotiations

Robert Mckenzie, Senior Business Analyst at EPAM, talks about key stages in the negotiation process and shares idioms most widely used in a business context that allow you to fully understand what the customer is talking about.

Robert Mckenzie, Senior Business Analyst


According to Cambridge dictionary, an idiom is: "A group of words in a fixed order that has a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own."

Idioms are used in everyday life and in a business context to emphasize a point of view, belief, the importance of something, and general alignment on specific tasks. Idioms add variety and color to speech or writing and make statements more memorable.

5 key stages in the negotiation process

There are five common stages that most effective negotiations follow to achieve a successful outcome. I have put together a brief overview of each stage with some idioms that can be used.

1. Prepare for negotiation

If you want to prepare the ground, get everyone on the same page and get the ball rolling for negotiations, you must send out an agenda with the goals of the negotiation meeting well in advance, ask for feedback on the agenda and update it if required.

  • Collect all relevant information for the negotiation after elicitation with stakeholders and concerns from each party.

  • Get another BA to take notes not to miss any points and record the session — if necessary, with approval.

  • List the benefits of the best-case scenario and the disadvantages of the worst.

  • Highlight the AS-IS scenario and create the TO-BE scenario based on the best outcome for both parties.

  • Set clear objectives, comparing stakeholder concerns, then summarize where we are and try to find a mutually beneficial agreement.

Idioms that can be used:

  • Prepare the ground

When you prepare the ground, you try to make it easier for a future event or action to happen or be accepted.

Example: "The business analyst prepared the ground for negotiations."

  • On the same page

When someone is on the same page, they have the same information and are thinking the same way about it.

Example: "During the negotiations, the product manager and SME were on the same page."

  • Get the ball rolling

When someone says, "let’s get the ball rolling," they are letting the people at the meeting know that we will start talking about the main points of the negotiations.

Example: "Ok, enough small talk, let's get the ball rolling."

2. Open the negotiations

If you play your cards right and are above board before getting down to the nitty gritty, you will be able to set the tone and open the negotiations successfully.

  • Ensure that your opening statement sets the tone for the rest of the meeting. Be open and sincere.

  • Facilitate the meeting professionally. Allow and encourage everyone to get involved and contribute.

  • This could involve presenting a RACI matrix with key responsibility areas for each stakeholder to focus on, if necessary.

Idioms that can be used:

  • Play your cards right:

If you play your cards right, you do all that is necessary to succeed or to obtain what you want.

Example: "If we play our cards right, we'll get consensus among the group."

  • Above board

If business negotiations are described as above board, they are open, honest, transparent and legal.

Example: "There is no secret agenda — our dealings are above board."

  • Get down to the nitty gritty

When people get down to the nitty gritty, they begin to discuss the most important points or the practical details.

Example: "Thank you for your input, but let's get down to the nitty gritty."

  • Set the tone

To create or establish a general feeling or atmosphere among a group of people.

Example: "The business analyst set the tone to start successful negotiations."

3. Exchange information

If you bide your time and want to gain consensus among the group, it is important to discuss the sticking points to find the best solution.

  • Gain agreement on the problem that exists and the possible solutions as a "win-win" for both parties.

  • Listen to concerns and difficulties and highlight them for discussion.

  • Gently challenge assumptions with facts.

  • Build rapport and trust throughout the conversation.

  • Highlight the common ground that everyone agrees on.

Idioms that can be used:

  • Bide your time

If you bide your time, you wait for a good opportunity to do something.

Example: "The business analysts are not hesitating; they are just biding their time, waiting for the group to understand each other's point of view before coming to an agreement."

  • Gain consensus

In a team setting, this means finding a proposal that all team members can support with no team members opposing it.

Example: "After exchanging our points of view on the subject, we were able to gain consensus among the group."

  • Sticking point

A sticking point is a controversial issue that causes an interruption or blocks progress in discussions or negotiations.

Example: "The choice of vendor was a sticking point in the negotiations."

4. Bargain and generate options 

During your negotiations, some stakeholders involved may try to drive a hard bargain and identify a bone of contention. Perhaps you can meet halfway and leave the door open to get a win-win situation for all involved.

  • Brainstorm ideas based on the client’s pain points.

  • List some possible concessions and alternative options.

  • Break down the problem into smaller chunks to completely understand the problem or root cause of the issue.

  • Stay focused and align your thoughts on the best-case scenario and concerns from other parties.

  • Outline a prioritized list and gain consensus to define the prioritized scope.

Idioms that can be used:

  • Drive a hard bargain

A person who drives a hard bargain always makes sure they gain advantage in a business deal.

Example: "Be prepared for tough negotiations with John. He drives a hard bargain."

  • Bone of contention

A bone of contention is a matter or subject about which there is a lot of disagreement.

Example: "The vendors have been agreed on, but the service agreement is still a bone of contention."

  • Meet halfway

If you meet someone halfway, you accept to make a compromise and give them part of what they are trying to obtain.

  • Example: "We can't agree to all your conditions, but we could perhaps agree to meet halfway."

  • Leave the door open

If you leave the door open, you behave in such a way as to allow the possibility of further action.

Example: "Both parties left the door open for further negotiations."

  • Win-win

A win-win situation is good for everyone; there are no losers.

Example: "Our negotiated consensus is a win-win for the organization and the departments involved as it automates time-consuming manual processes."

5. Finalize agreement and conclude negotiations

To conclude the negotiations, you want to ensure that no stone was left unturned and everyone is on the same page by creating action items and keep them posted.

  • Select a best-case scenario based on a mutually beneficial agreement.

  • Confirm the outcome and next steps.

  • Develop an action plan for moving forward.

  • Get the final agreement in writing and signed to close the negotiations, if required.

Idioms that can be used:

  • Leave no stone unturned

If you try everything possible to achieve something, you leave no stone unturned.

Example: "The business analyst left no stone unturned in attempting to get both parties to reach an agreement.”

  • On the same page

When someone is on the same page, they have the same information and are thinking the same way about it.

Example: "During the negotiations, the PO, BA and SME were on the same page."

  • Keep someone posted

If someone asks you to keep them posted, they want you to keep them informed about a situation.

Example: "Our business analyst promised to keep us posted on developments in the negotiations."

How to remember these idioms?

  • Start using them immediately in your speech and written correspondence.

  • Write down 10 sentences with each idiom and read them out loud.

  • Link each idiom to real-life situations.

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