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Soft language, hard negotiating

Ian McMaster ist Chefredakteur von Business Spotlight
Es mag vielen gar nicht bewusst sein, aber Verhandlungen gehören zum Berufsalltag selbstverständlich dazu. Das beginnt mit der banalen Frage, wer von den Kollegen Kaffee kocht, und geht bis hin zur knallharten Auseinandersetzung über Millionengeschäfte. Auf Englisch zu verhandeln, erfordert großes Geschick. Denn Sprachprobleme und kulturelle Unterschiede können den Erfolg einer Vereinbarung gefährden.
Know your partner. When dealing with business partners from other countries, try to find out a little about their typical negotiating practices. For example, do they expect an extended warm up (small talk) before getting down to business? I once accompanied a German colleague to a negotiation with the British Council. Almost before introducing herself to the very British lady from the Council, my colleague announced: "We want to hold a seminar and we want to use your rooms." Needless to say, the meeting didn't go well. It was a basic error and one I should have warned my colleague about. Remember, however, not to be blinded by national or cultural stereotypes. You are dealing with individuals, not cultures - and individuals vary greatly within cultures. Learn to soften your language_The second mistake my colleague made was to be too direct, a common fault of German-speakers. Ban the word "want" from your vocabulary. Make lots of use of "gentle" expressions such as "we would like...", "would it be possible to...?" or "would you be in a position to...?"

Learn how to say "no". Most people find it much easier and pleasant to say "yes" than "no". That's why we are more direct when agreeing than disagreeing. For example, in- stead of saying, "No, we can't do that," or "No, that's impossible," you can say "I'm afraid that would be rather difficult," or "I'm not sure we would be able to meet your requirements".

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Watch for hidden signals. At the same time, listen for words that show that your partner may not yet finally have said "no". "It would be extremely difficult for us to..." may be your partner's way of saying "no" politely, but it does at least leave the door open for you to make another offer. A lot will depend on how it is said.

The "if" problem. Much bargaining in negotiations involves conditional phrases with the word "if". Most German-speakers believe there are only three types of conditional sentences: a) "If you give us a discount of ten per cent, we will order a further 100 items." b) "If you gave us a discount of ten per cent, we would order a further 100 items." c) "If you had given us a discount of ten per cent, we would have ordered a further 100 items."

Although these three classic forms are very useful to learn - type (b) is less direct, and therefore usually more polite than type (a), or relates to a less likely scenario - there is in fact an almost unlimited number of types of conditional sentences. Listen closely to your business partners and note down any useful constructions during the meeting. You will almost certainly hear native speakers putting "if" and "would" in the same clause - for example, "If you would increase your discount a little..." - even though you have probably been taught that this is wrong.

Propose, don't question. Take control of the negotiations by stating what you will do if your partner makes a concession, rather than asking what he or she will do if you make a concession. Start with "If you..." rather than "If we...".

Learn your prepositions. This may sound boring, but there is a world of difference between reducing your prices by 20 Euro and reducing them to 20 Euro. There is also a big difference between saying "the goods will be here until Friday" and "by Friday".

Confirm and summarize. Never leave a negotiation without summarizing what you believe has been agreed. This gives both sides the chance to clear up any misunderstandings. For example: "So, let's just summarize what we have agreed today: you are going to reduce your delivery period by two weeks, and we are going to pay immediately on receipt of the goods. Is that correct?" Key Vocabulary

agenda - Tagesordnung
adjourn - vertagen
bargain - feilschen
(bulk) discount - (Mengen-)Rabatt
commission - Provision
contract - Vertrag
concession - Zugeständnis
counterpart - Gegenüber
counter-proposal - Gegenvorschlag
deadline - Termin
offer - Angebot
terms (and conditions) - Bedingungen

Negotiating Positions

opening position - your first offer
target position - the result you would like to reach
walk away position - the least you are prepared to accept
best alternative to a negotiated agreement - your fall-back position if you cannot reach agreement
Dieser Artikel ist erschienen am 21.01.2002