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!
Not allowing plenty of time during a lesson on negotiating is also one of the key reasons why things can go wrong. First of all, if you are using a role play, students need time to think about their role and their position. They then need to think about what kind of language they will use. They also have to plan strategy and know the answers to these questions: What do I want to get from the negotiation? What will the other side want? What will be an achievable outcome? It can be helpful to put the students with the same roles into teams to discuss and plan their answers before meeting the opposition.
Once the negotiations have started, be flexible. If a negotiation roleplay reaches deadlock then take time out for students to rethink their position. You may even need to prompt them with possible solutions as well as inputting any new key language.
End the lesson with time for feedback on use of language and any issues relating to strategy. Ask students what techniques in the negotiation seemed to work well. If you have larger classes with some students who regularly negotiate in their own language more than others, then draw heavily on them as a resource.
Extract from Business Result Advanced Teacher Training DVD
This post is based on a longer article on negotiating in Business English on the Oxford Teachers’ Club website (requires free registration). You can read and print the whole article here: Negotiating by John Hughes.
John Hughes has also written an accompanying session on negotiating for teacher trainers to use with Business English teachers. Read it on his blog www.trainingelteachers.net.