Delaying making a decision or stalling in business negotiations is both a common and successful strategy used by buyers (although some suppliers have been known to use it too).

There are two main reasons for this. The first, is a tactic. The buyer wants to delay the negotiation in order to get a better offer from the seller. The second, is to wait for other offers. The buyer doesn't want to make a deal until he has received offers from other suppliers/providers.

Most suppliers know that buyers do this, so are skilled in being able to deal with a buyer trying to delay making a decision. So, if you want to delay a negotiation, you need to be prepared for this and know how to respond to whatever the supplier tries to do or say.

In this online exercise on negotiations, we will both look at and I will explain the purpose of certain phrases in English that can be used by a buyer to delay a business negotiation. We will also look at what supplier will try to say and do to stop you doing this.

Click here to see more of our free online exercises on business negotiation vocabulary


Exercise: Delaying in negotiations

Read the following two business negotiations where the buyers are trying to delay making a decision. In the first, the negotiation is for a service contract for IT support. In the second, the negotiation is for a contract for television components.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Negotiation One

Seller:'So, here's a copy of the support contract that we're offering you.'

Buyer:'Do you mind if we have a few minutes to go over it?'

Seller:'Not at all. Take your time.'

20 minutes later

Seller:'As you can see, we're offering you an excellent deal with full 24 hour on-site and off-site support.'

Buyer:'It looks good. Could you clarify what exactly this means in your proposal?'

Seller:'It means that if there is a serious problem then the on-site support team can contact one of our senior developers. If they can't resolve the problem remotely they will come on-site within 2 hours. Does that answer your question?'

Buyer:'Yes it does.'

Seller:'Well, if that's all, shall we start to talk about money?'

Buyer:'Sorry, before we move on, we require clarification of your procedures for data confidentiality.'

Seller:'Well, as is standard in the industry, all our staff have to sign a data confidentiality agreement before working with any new client. This prevents any external use of data.'

Buyer:'Sorry, I'm still not clear about it!'

Seller:'I have a copy of a confidentiality agreement here with me. Have a look at it.'

5 minutes later

Seller:'Does that answer your question?'

Buyer:'I'm afraid that it doesn't say anything about performing criminal background checks on your staff. We're a bank and it's necessary that anyone who works for us has had one done.'

Seller:'Of course they are carried out.'

Buyer:'I'm afraid that we need it on paper before we can do anything. Can you put that in writing?'

Seller:'No problem, I'll send that to you today. And do you want to know our price?'

Buyer:'Send it to us when you send the copy of the checks procedures.'

Seller:'Ok. Do you want to meet again this Friday?'

Buyer:'I'm afraid that we can't do this Friday. I'll let you know in a couple of days when we can meet.'


Negotiation Two

Seller:'So, we'll reduce the price per unit to $4. It's a substantial reduction.'

Buyer:'So, if I'm correct, you're now offering a 35 cent reduction on the price of each component.'

Seller:'Yes. Do we have a deal?'

Buyer:'I'm afraid that I need to check with head office before I can make any decision.'

Seller:'No problem. I'll give you time to call them.'

5 minutes later

Seller:'So, what's the decision?'

Buyer:'My boss wasn't there, so I left her a voice message.'

Seller:'You know you won't get a better price.'

Buyer:'I appreciate what you're doing, but I have to wait for her to call me back.'

Seller:'Ok, what if we offer you an extra year's guarantee. But it's on condition that you order today.'

Buyer:'I'll make a note of that, but it's out of my hands. When my boss calls me, I'll tell her.'

Seller:'It's a one-off offer. We can't keep it open.'

Buyer:'I appreciate that, but I can't approve anything without the agreement of my boss first. So, my hands are tied. It's with my boss now.'

Seller:'Maybe it's better if I spoke with her.'

Buyer:'Look, this is going nowhere. I think we've both had a long day. I appreciate the concession that you've made, but I think we ought to sleep on it. I'll speak with you tomorrow.'


Dealing with unreasonable demands in negotiations exercise


Quiz: Delaying business negotiations vocabulary & phrases

Below is a definition/description of each of the words/phrases in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase and for a translation. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase and to do a pronunciation speaking test.

1. A way to repeat to somebody that the decision is now with somebody else, is
         

It's out of my hands:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. It basically means that there is no point in trying to get/force you to make a decision, because it's not your decision to make. Normally, this is used after you have originally informed the other side/party that you can't make the decision and you've passed it to the person who can, e.g. 'As I said before, I've passed it to my boss. It's her decision. It's out of my hands now'. It is commonly used when delaying a negotiation and is a lot politer than simply saying 'no' to an offer. In Spanish: "no puedo hacer nada".

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It's out of my hands:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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2. A polite way to inform somebody that they still haven't explained something well, is
         

I'm still not clear about it:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. In theory this phrase means that you still don't understand something that someone has tried once or more times to explain to you. With delaying, it is used by people who understand what something means, but want to try to slow things down in a negotiation or even stop the meeting, e.g. 'I'm still not clear about it. Maybe it's better if you explain it to me in writing'. In Spanish: "no lo tengo aún claro".

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I'm still not clear about it:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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3. A politer way to say that 'this is a waste of time', is
         

This is going nowhere:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. This phrase is very direct, but it's not offensive. A lot depends on how you say it. It means that it's pointless continuing with meeting. It is used when the other side/party is being aggressive and trying to force you to make a deal and other delaying phrases/tactics haven't worked. It's normally followed by a phrase like 'I think we should finish the meeting' or 'I think we should sleep on it'. In Spanish: "no va a ningún lado".

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This is going nowhere:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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4. A professional way to ask somebody to explain something to you, is
         

Could you clarify what exactly this means:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. This polite phrase is used to ask somebody to explain something in a better and clearer way. With delaying, it is used by people who understand what something means, but want to try to slow things down in a negotiation. 'this' in the phrase can be replaced with anything, e.g. 'can you clarify what exactly service level agreements mean?'. If you want to continue to delay with this method, you can follow the explanation given with 'I'm still not clear about it'. In Spanish: "Podría aclararme qué significa esto exactamente".

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Could you clarify what exactly this means:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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5. A phrase which informs/tells the other side/party that the final decision is not yours, is
         

I'm afraid that I need to check with:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. In this context, this phrase means that you can't make the final decision and that you have to pass the offer/information to another person. It's normally followed by 'my boss' or 'head office'. It is commonly used in delaying when the other side/party have made an offer and you don't want to say either 'yes' or 'no'. It's often followed by the person making a phone call and then telling the other side/party that the person making the decision didn't answer their phone and that you've left a voice message. It's an excellent method when wanting to delay. In Spanish: "lo siento pero necesito hablar/comprobar con".

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I'm afraid that I need to check with:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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6. A different way to say 'we should stop the negotiation for today', is
         

I think we ought to sleep on it:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. This is a polite phrase that sounds almost like a suggestion to finish the meeting for that day. 'I think we ought to sleep on it' is very commonly used. Instead of this phrase you could use 'I think we should call it a day', which means exactly the same. This last phrase is commonly used in both meetings and negotiations. In Spanish: "Creo que debemos dejarlo / la decisión hasta mañana".

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I think we ought to sleep on it:

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7. A different way to say 'we need to talk about something before we continue', is
         

Before we move on, we require:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. In negotiations after an offer has been proposed, it is common to talk about the details of the offer (terms and conditions). It is normal that the side/party who has proposed the offer, will try as quickly as possible to move the conversation on to the subject of whether the other side will accept the offer, e.g. 'so what's your opinion of the offer?' The phrase 'before we move on, we require' is used as an answer to this if you don't want to go on to that subject. The phrase is normally followed by 'details of', 'confirmation of' or 'clarification of', e.g. 'before we move on, we require details of the delivery schedules'. In Spanish: "antes de continuar, necesitamos ".

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Before we move on, we require:

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8. A different way to say 'we can't attend', is
         

We can't do:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. It is an informal way to say that can't go to a meeting on a certain date, e.g. 'we can't do it on Tuesday'. It's normal and polite to give a reason why you can't attend, e.g. 'I have another meeting then'. The later the date of the meeting, the longer the decision is delayed. In Spanish: "no podemos asistir a".

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We can't do:

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9. A phrase that means that you don't have authority to do/agree to something, is
         

My hands are tied:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. This phrase means that you aren't authorised to agree to something or make a decision by yourself. It is often used when refusing an offer, e.g. 'my boss says that the minimum that we can offer you is $4.00, so I can't agree to $3.80, my hands are tied'. In Spanish: "mis manos están atadas".

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My hands are tied:

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10. A phrase that asks somebody to confirm something on paper, is
         

Can you put that in writing:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. 'can you put that in writing' or 'we need to see that in writing' means that you need to have something that has been said, to be written on paper. It is a very effective tactic when wanting to delay a negotiation, because it will generally mean that the meeting will have to finish so the person can write it. It is normal to say after this phrase 'we can't do anything before we see it in writing', which means that until you have it in writing you won't make any decision. In Spanish: "pueden poner eso por escrito".

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Can you put that in writing:

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Practice

Now that you understand the new delaying negotiations vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences in English with the new phrases.