The language of negotiation – tips for handling difficult situations

Handling difficult business situations is tricky at the best of times – but doing so in your non-native language is especially challenging. Making sure you use the right words to keep the situation calm or work things to your advantage takes practise. The most important thing is to make sure you maintain a professional tone throughout and to listen carefully. It’s not always easy to keep your cool in a tense or stressful situation, especially when using business English, so here are our top tips.

Managing clients

Clients respond to helpfulness – when dealing with a client make sure you always start by asking how you can help, and be proactive about asking whether there are any issues. It’s important to listen actively and to let them know you understand what they are talking about. Be responsive – if a client asks you to complete a task or provide some information, give them your deadline for when it will be ready. If you really want to impress, show you are thinking of them by offering to share relevant tips or information they haven’t asked for.

Dealing with an unhappy client

Speaking to a client with a grievance can be unpleasant – and stressful. The tone and language you use are an important way of helping to defuse the situation. Always start by telling them you are sorry for the inconvenience and ask the client to describe the issues they are experiencing. Remember that it’s important for them to know you are listening carefully, so take notes to help you ensure you address all the points they have raised. Make it clear that you understand their problem and describe any actions to be taken immediately – such as drawing the issue to the attention of your manager or making any amendments or changes to their account or your processes.

If you can’t deal with the problem straight away, make sure you outline the next steps in the process clearly by letting them know that you or a manager will call them back, scheduling another meeting or send them any information they need. Tell them when you will follow up with them to report your progress and let them know they can contact you again if any other problems arise. Once the issue has been resolved, make sure you get in touch to find out whether they are happy with the resolution.

Raising issues in the workplace

If you’re experiencing issues at work – whether with your manager or another colleague – raising them can be daunting, especially since expressing your feelings could lead to tension. Try raising the issue privately with your manager first. Ask to schedule a meeting and make sure you are well prepared. It might help to put together a short, bullet-pointed list of points you wish to raise. During the meeting, tell them that you are experiencing problems with a particular behaviour or situation and describe them briefly. Try not to make accusations – describe the situation as you see it, but make an effort not to sound too negative about the other people involved. You should also ask your manager how you think you should deal with the situation. If their recommendations involve actions for you to take, make sure you follow up the meeting by updating them on your progress. If your manager offers to take action to help make things easier, ask when you can expect them to do this.

Situations where you have an issue with your manager can be more difficult – in this case, you may need to raise the issues with the Human Resources department by scheduling a meeting with them. Let them know that you have some concerns and describe these as succinctly as possible. Be prepared for your manager to be given an opportunity to describe their side of the situation as well.

Resolving problems

Resolving problems in the workplace is never easy – but it can be rewarding. It’s important to make sure everyone has the opportunity to make their feelings and opinions heard and to feel they are being taken seriously. Start by asking what the issues are and once these have been defined, start asking about the solution. Give everyone involved the opportunity to comment on each solution that is suggested and to identify any difficulties they foresee. If you disagree with any of the suggestions made, try to communicate this as respectfully as possible, perhaps by thanking your colleague for their idea, or highlighting its advantages before raising your concerns. Even better, see if you can offer a way of enhancing their solution rather than dismissing it altogether.

Listening to others

Of course, you aren’t the only one who might have an issue to raise. If you find yourself in a situation where a colleague or client has raised a complaint against you, it’s important to stay calm and collected. Listen to their concerns and try to deal with them as constructively as possible. Make an effort not to sound defensive, and apologise where necessary. If they make a statement that is inaccurate, apologise for having given them that impression and explain the situation from your point of view. Try to avoid telling them directly that they are wrong, but make it clear that you understand their frustrations and their point of view and would like to clarify or resolve the situation.

Dealing with stressful situations is difficult at the best of times – do your best to keep your cool and remain polite, for that is truly the most successful language of negotiation in business.


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