Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter April 2005

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The occasional newsletter of
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)

Number 32, April 2005

The occasional newsletter of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)


A few weeks ago a student from the Philippines sent an email asking for an article explaining "THE IMPORTANCE OF ENGLISH IN BUSINESS". Most likely that topic merits a book and not just an article.

Instead, here are some observations about the current primacy of English as the language of choice in international negotiations. Let me begin by saying that when someone from The Negotiation Skills Company is providing consulting services or negotiating in English with people who have a different mother tongue, we always feel humbled by their talent in 'our' language.

English has not always been the language of choice for international negotiation. We must always be aware that nothing stays the same forever and that someday other languages or media will dominate international communication. At the present time, however, the economic power of the United States and other English-speaking countries, the universality of English-language news broadcasts on televisions in hotels frequented by business travelers, and the general likelihood that students' first foreign language is English all contribute to the expectation that if someone doesn't understand your language, there's a good chance they will be able to communicate in English.

If English is the 'default' language of international communication, and since negotiation is about the communication of information (price, specifications, delivery, creative solutions, etc.), English is dominant in negotiation.

There are a number of dangers in this. As the fractured quotation from Winston Churchill used as the title of this newsletter indicates, the fact that people are using one language to communicate with folks who speak different languages is no guarantee that the negotiating parties will truly understand each other. This is true in every language spoken in multiple countries; accents vary, dialects may be incomprehensible between groups, and even the meanings of everyday words can be different. When folks are from countries that don't share a common language, that exacerbates the possibilities of miscommunication.

If someone negotiates with you in English, and if their English is not the same as yours, it is crucial to be transparent in emphasizing the need to make sure there is accurate mutual understanding. One should use diplomatic approaches to raise this issue; after all the words you use can be just as confusing to your negotiation partner as hers are to you.

Before undertaking any negotiation it is crucial to know your own interests, to rank those interests according to priority, and to figure out how you will know when your interests are being addressed. Then listen to other parties for information upon which decisions can be made.

When negotiation is undertaken by people whose common language is not the mother tongue of one or more parties, the most sensible thing to do is ask questions constantly throughout the process that are likely to yield clarifying answers. For example, it is not unreasonable to ask something like: "When you say the product is guaranteed, what is the nature of the guarantee you offer? In my country/market a guarantee includes the following aspects: (then you give a list). What is normal in your country/market when you say 'guarantee'?" Make it clear that you are not doubting your negotiating partner's honesty, but rather that you are pursuing greater understanding.

Negotiations only succeed if the parties 'buy in' to the agreement and are truly willing to fulfill the bargain they have made. The language used in negotiation should be a means of clear communication so that no party emerges from the process wondering whether they've agreed to something they don't understand or to which they have been pushed to agree for fear of losing face by admitting a lack of comprehension.

English is indeed the language of global business. It is best used if it fosters transparency in transactions. Whether the people who use it are native speakers of English or are simply using the best way to communicate with someone with whom they don't share another language, they have to take care to prevent what appears to be a common means of communication does not become a common language that divides the parties.


The newest printing of Negotiating Skills for Managers contains changes to the focus on preparation described in Chapter 5. The changes have been sent to publishers of the international editions of the book for updates when the next printings appear.

TNSC's preparation software, The Negotiator's Interest Map(tm), is about to appear in a beta-testing version. We'll announce when the completed version of the software is available and how to download a copy.

Closing thought

Before (a poor negotiator starts speaking), they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying; and when they have (finished), they do not know what they have said.
-- Winston Churchill

Cheers to all,

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