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4 Ways to successfully negotiate across language barriers

By Natalie Reynolds, Founder and CEO of advantagesSPRING

While English is often the common language of business, it’s important to remember that it may be the 2nd (or 3rd, or 4th) language of your counterparts. Founder and CEO of advantagesSPRING, Natalie Reynolds, discusses the top tips to lead successful negotiations with your multilingual counterparts.  

1. Avoid colloquialisms

There are certain business phrases that will pop out of our mouths without much thought. We say that we’ll ‘run it up the ladder’ or take that back to head office to ‘download after the meeting’. We’ll explore solutions on the ‘low hanging fruit’. When we’re sitting around a table with our teammates and colleagues these expressions may perfectly convey what our goals and next steps are, but to a non-native English speaker, they can be incredibly confusing.

Therefore, during your next negotiation keep an eye out for visual cues that something hasn’t been understood (a furrowed brow, or quizzical look) and find standard, simpler ways to communicate the same idea in a much clearer way.

2. Build-in extra time

Even with high levels of fluency or proficiency, it takes longer to process information in a language other than your mother tongue. A conversation may have more pauses as vocabulary is chosen or verbs are conjugated. A contract may take twice as long to review as unfamiliar terminology and concepts are translated.

Therefore, when setting your negotiation schedule and agenda, build in extra breakout sessions for teams to confer and review language. These side conversations may be key to your counterpart having a clear understanding of the deal you’re creating. Also, build in extra time for covering discussion topics in both spoken and written word. Use of screen sharing or whiteboards to make co-drafting easier to follow.

3. Watch your assumptions

When negotiating, say what you mean, and mean what you say…but remember that language and culture can have an impact. Just because everyone at the table is nodding along, or saying that they agree; it’s always best to double-check that everyone understands the agreement in the same way. Ensuring this during the negotiations (instead of miscommunications or misunderstandings being uncovered during the approval phase of your deal) will allow you an opportunity to re-group and find another path forward without losing too much momentum.

An excellent way to spot any differences in interpretation is to have both your team and your counterparties explain the deal in their own words. There may be nuances missed or assumptions made that aren’t clear from contract redlines alone.

4. Be patient

Fundamental to achieving brilliant negotiation results when working with multilingual counterparts is patience. In a world where time is money and deadlines are tight, this patience can be difficult to muster – but ensuring a strong result for your organization will bring benefits for years to come.

Natalie Reynolds is Founder and CEO of advantagesSPRING, who are leading global experts in effective negotiation training.

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