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IDIOMS AND COLLOQUIALISMS - PART 1: NEGOTIATIONS


There are thousands of idioms, and colloquialisms, in the English language. They are used in both a general English and a professional English setting. The more of these you know, the more natural your English will sound. However, it is very important that they are used appropriately and in the right context.


In this series, we will focus on idioms and colloquialisms that can be used in the context of negotiations. Even if you do not use them yourself, you may hear them being used by others. The idioms and colloquialisms can be sub-divided; for example, into areas such as ‘beginning a negotiation’, ‘during a negotiation’, ‘persuasion’, ‘ending a negotiation’, and so on. When learning idioms, it is a good idea to try to categorise them in this way. Some of these you may know and others you may not. There wil be a short exercise at the end of every second post in this series, to check understanding.


1. To get the ball rolling

This is an idiom which can be used at the start of a negotiation or meeting. It means ‘to make a start’ or ‘to begin’. It is an idiom based on a football/soccer analogy for starting the game. At the start of a negotiation, one of the parties may say

‘Let’s get the ball rolling,’ meaning, ‘Let’s begin the negotiation/meeting.’

An alternative to this might be to say: ‘to kick off’. ‘Let’s kick off.’ This, again, is a sporting analogy.

2. To get bogged down in something


This means to become so involved or focused on one particular issue that you cannot move forward or consider anything else. In other words, being unable to resolve this issue prevents you from making any progress.


‘We got bogged down in the issue of whether the contract term [duration] should be 9 or 12 months.’

3. A sticking point.


A ‘sticking point’ is some issue which stops progress being made. In that sense, it is similar to 2 (above).

‘We found that agreement over the starting salary was a sticking point.’

4. A bone of contention


If something is a ‘bone of contention’, it means that it is a subject about which there is a continuing disagreement or dispute.

‘Our company policy not to give workers a Christmas bonus has been a bone of contention for several years.’

5. The ball is in our/your court.

This means that a decision needs to be made by you, or someone else, before any further progress can be made. Again, it is a sporting analogy. It can be emphasised by adding ‘firmly’; for example:

‘We have made our final offer. The ball is now firmly in your court.’

6. A dealbreaker


A ‘dealbreaker’ is an issue for negotiation which, if it cannot be agreed between the parties, will end the negotiations completely and would cause a party to withdraw from them. During negotiations, many issues can become dealbreakers. They are issues which a party is not willing to compromise on.

‘We need a contract term of at least 12 months. If you cannot agree to this, it is a dealbreaker.’


7. To be stuck [or ‘caught/trapped’] between a rock and a hard place

This is to be in a position where you must decide between two equally unpleasant choices or courses of action.

‘We really don’t want to pay as much as they are asking for the goods, but on the other hand we urgently need them. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place.’


8. To reach/come the end of the road/line

This is another expression which indicates that no further progress can be made and suggests that no further negotiation is possible.

‘If you are not willing to lower your price any further, I think we have come to the end of the line.’


(c) Cambridge Legal English Academy 2020


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