Negotiations In Great Britain

Negotiations In Great Britain

Negotiating parties need one another otherwise they would not be taking part in negotiations with one another. That is the attitude taken by British business partners. A common ground forms the basis for achieving a fair deal.

In order to reach this goal, you get to know your negotiating partners and find out what for them is the most important thing in this deal. At the same time, you know what you yourself wish to attain and what you are prepared to give up to reach this aim. You go through many different options beforehand so that you can arrive at a settlement that is satisfactory for both sides.

Always knowing which alternative you can offer when, that is the art of negotiating, which even has a name: BATNA – Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. This strategy was initiated by authors Roger Fisher and William Ury in their book Getting to Yes. It means nothing more than working out the best alternatives, to achieve a win-win situation for both sides. What is the best way of going about this?

Negotiating Technique

There is no such thing as a stupid question in Britain. As already mentioned, all questions serve for self-reflection and to broaden your horizons. In addition, they show proactivity and interest, and the knowledge accumulated strengthens your own position. In negotiations with British partners, it is less a case of emphasising who you are and what you want – that is the job of your counterpart – but more a case of discovering who your partners are and developing a feeling for how you can win them over. Various ways of asking questions can be helpful:

Emotional questions:

›How do you feel about …?‹

›How does … sound to you?‹

Open questions:

›What would be the best way for you to work together?‹

›Why is … so important to you?‹

Double-check questions:

›Am I right in thinking that …?‹

›Correct me, if I am wrong. What I understand here is …?‹

›If I understood you correctly, you would like me to …?‹

What if questions:

›What, if …?‹

›If you …, what would it be?‹

More information questions:

›Aren’t these figures possibly setting too high a valuation on it?‹

›Could I ask what source this information comes from exactly?‹

Go about it like Sherlock Holmes. Ask questions and collect as much information as possible. Put yourself in your counterpart’s position, try to understand what makes him tick and discover his BATNA.


›You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.‹ (Chester Karrass) Others might say ›Good planning is half the job‹. These sayings illustrate nicely the cultural differences.

Here are a few central questions you could ask yourself in order to prepare for your next negotiations:

■ What will your tactics be during the discussions?

■ What do you and what do you not want?

■ What does the opposite party want and what does it not want?

■ What is your best and what is your worst offer and what concessions can you make?

■ What could be the opposite party’s best and what is their worst offer?

■ Which questions should you ask?

■ Which questions will the opposite party ask and how should you answer?

■ What information should you keep to yourself?

■ What would you do if you reach a stalemate?

■ What should you check out beforehand? Do you need additional figures, information or materials?

You should also consider:

■ Is your English adequate for the coming talks or would a native speaker be useful?

■ How much intercultural competence do the participants have?

■ Who will be the speaker, who will take the role of observer, and who will take notes?

The Art Of Listening

People have two ears and one mouth. You should utilise them proportion[1]ally. However, the art of listening is often underestimated. Many people are more occupied with talking than listening.

The British like to underline the listening with small comments like ›Right‹, ›Oh, I see‹, ›That’s very interesting‹, ›I understand‹, ›I can imagine‹, accompanied by a smile or a nod etc. In so doing they are showing their interest and the person speaking feels he is being taken seriously.

During discussions, it can be very helpful if one member of the negotiating team takes over the role of an active listener. This allows the discussion partner’s needs to be filtered out more effectively and you run less of a risk of missing the nuances between the lines.


›There is always more than one way to skin a cat‹, according to a British saying. The British like to change their opinion if new parameters which could create new options arise during negotiations. They do not necessarily adhere to their initial approach and they do not like to be forced into a corner.

This means that you will rarely be able to go home after the first round of talks with the oh so hoped-for decision in your pocket. You are more likely to be asked: ›Could we have a final decision at our next meeting?‹ However, you can forestall this by using the same methods and concluding ›We have summarised the benefits for you of accepting the offer on the table. I propose that we adjourn while each party consults its advisors.‹

The British like to conceal their fallback position as long as possible and use charm, humour and understatement in order to enforce their interests – in other words without confrontation, but in an equally target-orientated manner. Their methods are more roundabout than in many other countries and take that much longer. There are several intermediate stages that show the progress of negotiations.

There is a tendency among the British to feel that ›foreigners‹ want to ›outsmart‹ them. This word alone is a wonderful example of the way they go about things: politeness and diplomacy are their greatest asset even at the negotiating table!

As there is not only one best way as far as the British are concerned, it is better to turn a dilemma (in black and white thinking there are only 2 alternatives) into a pentalemma where there are five different options, which allows you to choose the best path depending on the situation. An entirely new route can therefore also present a possible solution.


Good Connections

As in many countries, the British too like to point out the size and good reputation of their company However, they are more likely to keep quiet about the behind the scenes connections: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. There is an old boys network (network for one-time pupils of public schools) which is still part of British business management today.

They are actively connected with one another and have executed many a deal. Job vacancies, too, are often filled discreetly via these channels. Even if you have never attended a public school in Britain, it is nevertheless advisable to build up your own network of varied British contacts.

Although some connections may not appear to be very promising on the surface, you never know! Keep the pot boiling – in a pleasant, unassuming manner. Doors which you thought closed or where you did not even know they existed can open unexpectedly e.g. in negotiations which have come to a standstill.

Rejecting An Offer

You will rarely hear a direct rejection in negotiations with the British. The ultimate objective is to maintain a pleasant atmosphere. The expression ›interesting idea‹, for example, without any further positive qualification, is a direct indication of rejection.

›Yes, but …‹ is easily said. The British interpret everything that follows the ›but‹ often as an extended negative message. You can avoid this. Simply replace the word ›but‹ by a short pause. Here are some examples:

›Interesting idea. (Pause) Perhaps we could look at ours, too.‹

›I’m sorry. (Pause) Perhaps we haven’t made it clear enough, why that might be difficult for us.‹

›I see where you are coming from. (Pause) Have you also considered … as a possible solution?‹

In this way, it is possible to reject an offer kindly and at the same time bring one’s own ideas and solutions into play. Contracts Decisions are recorded in the minutes and then moulded into a contract.

Contracts are normally seen as binding in Britain, but the British are more willing than others to adapt rules and contracts accordingly if the situation has changed. Nothing is carved in stone.

Iris Engler

Extract from Business Culture Great Britain, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag

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