In business negotiations, people can be unreasonable. Sometimes, one side/party can be very aggressive and try to force the other side/party to accept an offer which isn't beneficial for them. In other situations, one side/party will refuse to make any concessions on an offer they have made.

Normally, there are two outcomes when this happens:

  • Negotiations break down (finish without agreement).
  • One side/party accepts an unfavourable offer.

In either outcomes, it will probably damage the relationship between the two people involved and even the two companies. Which is not ideal for the future.

So what can you do if you are negotitaing with somebody who isn't willing to compromise? Get angry and/or give up?

There are ways in which you (whether you are the buyer or the seller) can deal with or control these situations to prevent negotiations breaking down, turning into an argument or having to accept a deal which is bad for you. It all depends on what you say and what you are prepared to do.

In this online exercise on negotiations, we will both look at and I will explain the purpose of certain phrases in English which are used in business negotiations to deal with unreasonable demands/offers and behaviour. Some of these phrases can be used by buyers in a negotiation and others by sellers.

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Exercise: Dealing with unreasonable demands

Read the following two business negotiations where one side/party is being unreasonable in its demands or behaviour. In the first, the re-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:'For a 2 year extension to the current service contract, the price will be $5 million.'

Buyer:'It's a lot higher than what we paid for the current contract.'

Seller:'To be honest, we've made a lost on the current contract with you. We've looked at the numbers and we can't lower it.'

Buyer:'Let me just make sure I know what you're saying, for exactly the same contract as we have now, we'll have to pay $1.5 million more.'

Seller:'As I said before, we've lost money on the existing contract we have with you. Plus, consider how much time and money it will cost you to change to a new service provider, at least $2 million and hundreds of hours of training and business downtime.'

Buyer:'I don't think that I'll be able to sell this back at head office.'

Seller:'As I said, to set up with a new provider will cost you more with higher risk.'

Buyer:'What would you do in our position if you had to pay 33% more to extend an existing contract?'

Seller:'I appreciate how you feel. It does seem a lot, but it'll cost you more if you change.'

Buyer:'What do you think will happen if we don't agree?'

Seller:'I suppose that you'll decide to give the contract to someone else.'

Buyer:'So, would you prefer to lose the contract or make a concession?'

Seller:'Of course, we don't want to lose the contract, but we feel we've made you a very reasonable offer.'

Buyer:'So you won't consider making a concession on price?'

Seller:'I'm afraid it's the lowest price we can offer you.'

Buyer:'Well, if that's your position, I'm afraid there's nothing else we can do! I think it's better if we finish the meeting now. If you reconsider your position, get in touch with me.'


Negotiation Two

Buyer:'From our perspective, $4.35 per component is too much. We're not willing to pay more than $3.00 per component.'

Seller:'So, if I understand you correctly, you're looking for $3.00 per unit for an order of 40,000 per month.'

Buyer:'Yes.'

Seller:'Would you excuse us for a moment?'

Buyer:'No problem.'

10 minutes later

Seller:'Your offer is very low. For that price we would make a loss on each component we sold you. It wouldn't make any sense for us to agree to a contract with these terms.'

Buyer:'We have found two suppliers who are willing to offer that price.'

Seller:'But will they provide the same quality of product and guarantee of service and delivery?'

Buyer:'Yes.'

Seller:'What if we offered you each component at $4.15 on condition that you increased your order to 50.000 per month?'

Buyer:'I appreciate the offer, but we're only prepared to pay $3. You do know that prices of televisions fell by 15% last year. We need to cut costs I'm afraid. So, are you willing to accept our offer?'

Seller:'I understand what you're saying, but we simply couldn't do it. It would ruin us. How do you suggest we proceed?'

Buyer:'I appreciate how you see it and I would like to make a compromise, but we have to save money somewhere!'

Seller:'I think it's best if we have a few days to think about it.'


Convincing people to buy in negotiations exercise


Quiz: Negotiations phrases - Dealing with unreasonable demands

Below is a definition or 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 polite phrase that is used to ask for some time alone, is
         

Would you excuse us for a moment:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. It is a very polite phrase. In the context of a difficult negotiation when somebody has made an unreasonable demand or offer, it is recommended that before you overreact or make a deal which is unfavourable for you, you should leave the negotiation for a short time in order to think about how you should continue. This phrase is ideal to do this. There are other phrases that can be used for the same purpose, e.g. 'I need to use the toilet'. In Spanish: "Nos disculpa un momento, por favor".

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Would you excuse us for a moment:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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2. A phrase that asks the other side/party to consider your situation/needs, is
         

What would you do in our position:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. It is basically asking the other side/party for advice. Although it seems strange to do so, the other side/party will probably see it has a compliment that you're asking them. It is often asked to the side/party that is being unreasonable and refusing to make any concessions. It can make them appreciate more your situation and make them more willing to make a concession. Plus, you can gain useful information from their answer. In Spanish: "qué haría usted en nuestra posición".

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What would you do in our position:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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3. A phrase that is used when offering a compromise or solution, is
         

What if we offered:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. It is used to introduce a concession to a previous offer you have made, e.g. 'what if we offered a price of $200?'. It has the same meaning as 'what would you say if'. In both, it sounds like you're making the concession because of the actions or demands of the other side/party, although you may have intended to make this concession before negotiations even started. It's a very effective and persuasive phrase. In Spanish: "qué tal si ofrecemos".

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What if we offered:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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4. A polite way to say 'it's pointless continuing', is
         

I'm afraid there's nothing else we can do:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. In the context of this exercise, it's is used when the other side/party are not willing at all to compromise and you have the feeling that nothing is going to happen or it will turn into an argument. It's polite because of 'I'm afraid'. This phrase is used to stop the negotiation. It often follows the phrase 'if that's your position, then...'. It should only be used if there's no alternative. In Spanish: "me temo que no hay nada que podamos hacer".

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I'm afraid there's nothing else we can do:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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5. A polite way to say that an offer is unacceptable, is
         

I don't think that I'll be able to sell this:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. It's a polite and indirect way to say that an offer is unacceptable. It is normally followed by 'to my boss', ' back at head office', e.g. 'I don't that I'll be able to sell this to my boss'. In Spanish: "no creo que pueda convencer a algiuen para que lo acepte".

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I don't think that I'll be able to sell this:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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6. A way to confirm/repeat what the other side/party has offered, which includes the word 'me', is
         

Let me just make sure I know what you're saying:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. This phrase is used to confirm the main points of an offer which the other side/party has just made. It has the same meaning as 'So, if I understand you correctly, you're looking for'. When an offer or demand is unreasonable, this phrase is often used with the purpose of giving the person who is saying it a little time to think how they should respond to the offer. In Spanish: "permiteme que este seguro de lo estas diciendo".

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Let me just make sure I know what you're saying:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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7. A way to ask the other side/party for their opinion on how to resolve the situation, is
         

How do you suggest we proceed:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. It is basically asking the other side/party for advice. It's very similar to 'What would you do in our position', but the answer will be focused on the actions of both sides/parties. Although it seems strange to do so, the other side/party will probably see it has a compliment that you're asking them. It is often asked to the side/party that is being unreasonable and refusing to make any concessions. It can make them appreciate more your situation and make them more willing to make a concession. Plus, you can gain useful information from their answer. In Spanish: "cómo sugiere que procedamos".

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How do you suggest we proceed:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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8. An indirect question, whose purpose is to remind the other side/party that negotiations will fail if there is no compromise, is
         

What do you think will happen if we don't agree:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. Its purpose is to warn the other side/party that if both sides/parties don't make a compromise then the negotiation will finish without a deal/agreement. It is very effective because it makes the side/party which is refusing to compromise consider the result of their actions/behaviour. It has the same purpose as the phrase 'would you prefer to lose the contract or make a concession', but is less direct. In Spanish: "qué cree que pasará si no estamos de acuerdo".

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What do you think will happen if we don't agree:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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9. A direct question, whose purpose is to remind the seller that negotiations will fail if there is no compromise, is
         

Would you prefer to lose the contract or make a concession:
(phrase) This phrase is only used by buyers. It's a better way of saying a threat like 'if you don't compromise you'll lose the contract'. Its purpose is to warn the seller of the consequences of them not making a compromise. It is very effective because it makes the seller consider the result of their actions/behaviour. It has the same purpose as the phrase 'What do you think will happen if we don't agree', but is more direct. In Spanish: "preferiría perder el contrato o hacer una concesión".

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Would you prefer to lose the contract or make a concession:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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10. A phrase that shows that you appreciate the other side's/party's point or situation, is
         

I understand what you're saying:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. It is commonly used when the other side/party is starting to become annoyed and saying why they can't or won't make a deal or compromise, e.g. 'the price is too high'. You would answer this with 'I understand what you're saying'. It is normally followed by 'but' where you explain to them the reasons or benefits of the offer/product etc..., e.g. 'but it lasts at least 2 years longer than other products on the market'. This phrase is used to calm the situation and show that you are both listening to them and can understand their point/position. It's very effective. In Spanish: "entiendo lo que dice ".

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I understand what you're saying:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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11. A phrase that offers the possibility of negotiations restarting if the other side/party change their minds, is
         

If you reconsider your position, get in touch with me:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. It is used in a situation where a negotiation has finished unsuccessfully / broken down. It is normally one of the last things said before leaving. It basically means that negotiations will restart if the other side/party is willing to compromise, it's their decision. It should only be used if you believe that you're in a strong position and that there is a high chance that this will make the other side/party make a compromise. In Spanish: "si reconsideren la postura, pongase en contacto conmigo".

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If you reconsider your position, get in touch with me:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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12. A way to confirm/repeat what a buyer has offered, which includes the word 'if', is
         

So, if I understand you correctly, you're looking for:
(phrase) This phrase can be used by both buyers and sellers. This phrase is used to confirm the main points of an offer/demand which has just made. It has the same meaning as 'Let me just make sure I know what you're saying'. When an offer or demand is unreasonable, this phrase is often used with the purpose of giving the person who is saying it a little time to think how they should respond to the offer. In Spanish: "asi que, si he entendido bien, quiere".

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So, if I understand you correctly, you're looking for:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

        x-webkit-speech speech error onwebkitspeechchange="checkIfCorrect(this.value, 'so if I understand you correctly you\'re looking for', 'audio_answer12');" />  

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Practice

Now that you understand the new dealing with unreasonable demands in a negotiation vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences in English with the new phrases.