Grammar and Negotiation

We should settle

We could settle

We might settle

What are the different meanings here?

Did you know that grammar influences negotiation?

Words like should, could and might are called modal verbs. They modify the main verb in the sentence to make it weaker or to indicate likelihood. In the case above, they modify the verb settle.

Apart from modal verbs, there are other words that express modality. Words like think, suppose, unfortunately and probably. Look at these examples:

I think we can …

I suppose we can …

Unfortunately we can’t …

We probably won’t …

Why do we care about modality in negotiation? Because it changes the emotional tone of the negotiation.

If you want to deliver bad news without being abrupt, use modality: Instead of I am not doing that, use I am probably not able to do that.

If you want to ask the other party for a concession without committing to giving one, use modality: Instead of I will give you X if you give me Y, try If you give me Y I might be able to give you X

If you want to be crystal clear about an outcome or a condition, be sure not to use modality: Instead of I don’t think I could do that, use That is not possible.

And finally, one of my favourite tips, if you want to get something on the table without committing to it, use questions with modality, for instance: Should we consider… or Wouldn’t it be better to …

Language matters in negotiation. You may intuitively use these grammar techniques but it’s helpful to understand their power.