Conversation Tips in Negotiations

Posted On: January 17, 2014

Were you recently taken by surprise in what was considered a routine standup meeting to be asked to change the course of what you were working on? 

Were you asked to do something that you felt was not so easy to do, not good for the long term outcome of the product or something you would definitely need more time to get done (even if it was a good idea)? 

How did you handle that situation?

Could you respond? Did you stay silent? 

We work with many offshore teams, especially teams in India who work with US clients. Many of those we work with speak English as a Second Language, have 5-15 years experience in the field, but may not always know the cultural context to “push back” or how to build the relationship to handle these not-so-easy conversations. 

Those we work with, like you, are technically brilliant. If you ask me about your work, I’d say for sure you have a lot to teach me that I do not know!! But, while one excels in the technical aspects of their job, gets tongue tied when having to be in front of the client. It becomes more complicated when maybe you are the only one handling the meeting because of the new work from home dynamics, your senior moved on and you suddenly took his or her place, or your manager was not available for the meeting that day. 

So, how can you handle these conversations in a tactful way?


1. Do not lecture your counterpart – BUT do rely on your expertise and consultation skills to back up your stand

While you may be ready with a list of facts and figures, do not speak more than a few minutes at a time. Remember, you are on the phone (in most cases). They can’t see you. They need a chance to digest what you are saying and add in their thoughts as well. These interactions should be discussions, not lectures. We should talk with our counterparts, not to them.

2. Break up sections of discussion with questions

Related to the point above, asking questions can be a good strategy in getting the other party to respond. Preparing for and practicing some strategic questions can go a long way. In addition to breaking up the conversation, and giving them a chance to talk, questions can help you to gather important information. If they don’t talk, it’s impossible for you to know what they are looking for. Letting them talk from time to time allows you to actively listen and collect valuable information about their and their requirements that you can use in the negotiation discussion.

3. Always use Pleasantries 

While negotiating, keep in mind, pleasantries go a long way. Don’t forget to use please (not kindly), thank youexcuse mesorry, and others as appropriate. Saying these words [as much as many Americans may expect] may feel out of place to many Indians, but for an American ear, it shows respect. Saying these words will always help, not saying these words always hurts.  

4. Use Small Talk 

Small talk builds relationships. It will never go out of style. The art of conversation, when done in a culturally sensitive way builds relationships. We tend to negotiate better with those we get along with better. If we have a favor to ask someone we barely know, it’s much more stressful than asking someone we know and feel comfortable with. Knowing the inner mind and desires of the other person comes through small talk and intuition. While cultural tips help in understanding the larger context of that person’s background, it remains important to understand each person on an individual level. Small talk helps us to break the ice and find common ground. This can go a long way in conversations on or off the negotiation table!


5. Rely on internal processes

In working with many startups in India, it was clear that processes from sales, to contracting, to intake, to change requests, project planning, documentation, meeting notes, and off boarding (among others), were either not all in place, not up to date, or done haphazardly. In working with US citizens, many do rely on the written word, take more stock in it. The written word typically builds trust as compared to the spoken word. The more that can be put in writing and managed in an organized way, the more trust one may tend to build. Also, when it is in writing, it can be filed and easily retrieved (hopefully). So, that when a request comes through that you need to push back on, it should be easy to find that document, email or contract (sow- statement of work) snippet that refers to what the clients wants changed to be able to use that as “evidence” that it was earlier discussed and decided on. Of course, it’s still important to listen to the “why” of the client’s request. In some cases, a conversation may open more doors to understanding possibly if what the client is asking is already being done (but, as they are not technical, they did not understand that part, so talking in conversational English about technical topics may be required), may be being done in a slightly different way than anticipated, the code or technology that’s being used doesn’t support that change request, or any other valid reason. 

Some related responses that may relate to this are:

  1. “the current technology doesn’t natively support this functionality….” (java or dot net or php)
  2. “the current implementation doesn’t natively support this functionality….”
  3. “This is a legacy solution and can’t natively handle this feature.” (Which means it’s a major overhaul to support.)

For more information on the important of processes, see How do you push back against a client?

Author, Jennifer Kumar, coaches virtual team members working with US Americans to bridge the cultural divide. We can work on small talk with US Americans, managing meetings, building your developers into consultants, and presentations over virtual mediums, and preparing your teams to come to the US among other business building skills.

Related Links:
Convince American Counterparts – Tips & Strategies 
Making Small Talk with US Counterparts  
Use of Questions in Small Talk  
Saying Thank You in E-mails & Responses to Thank You
How to Politely Interrupt in a Conversation  

Updated May 2019

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