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Take time to teach negotiating

Close-up of a handshakeJohn Hughes, author of Business Result, returns with advice on the importance of negotiation skills and language for Business English learners.

A student of mine once failed to indicate on her needs analysis form that she was regularly involved in negotiating. I was surprised because I already knew that her work included dealing with customers on the phone in the supplies department. When I followed this up later on, it became apparent that she viewed negotiating as something only top executives did. As far as she was concerned, talking about prices and delivery times didn’t really count as negotiating.

Aside from demonstrating that needs analyses are never water-tight when it comes to terminology, this highlights that negotiating actually happens at all levels in a company and doesn’t only need to be in the boardroom. For example, it can be between two colleagues discussing a day off or a request to leave work early.

So, when starting a lesson where students will negotiate, it’s worth taking time to explore what students think a negotiation is and when they need the relevant language for their job. Then consider how formal or informal the key expressions might be that students need. Do they need to be able to say “I’m sorry, but I don’t think we can agree to that,” or will the more direct “Sorry, but no way” suffice!

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