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30 Must-Know Idioms About Negotiations & Agreements

Negotiations are not easy, but they're even harder if you're not a native speaker. And because knowing common expressions will help you get the upper hand, here you have a list with the 30 must-know idioms about negotiations and agreements that you can start using today at work.

Idioms About Negotiations & Agreements

Here you have a list with the most common idioms about negotiations and agreements. Check it out and put them in practice at work or with a teacher:

Practice idioms in conversation

■ The speaker was just beating around the bush and never said anything important.  - Talk about something without giving a direct answer
■ We will bend over backwards if the other party is committed.  - Make every effort to achieve something, especially to be fair or helpful
■  After insisting for months, the manager caved in to his demands.  - Submit under pressure; give in
■  You're the boss here – you get to call the shots.  - To be the person who controls a situation and/or makes the decisions
■ When I first met him I didn't like him but I've changed my mind.  - Change your decision
■  The salesman came in high during the negotiations and could not sell his product. / The company came in low with an offer for our product.  - Charge too much/too little for your services, to ask for a price that is too high/low
■  The participants seem unable to find common ground on the issue of environment.  - Agree about something, share opinions or interests
■  The questions were endless and we were unable to cover much ground during the meeting.  - Talk about the important facts and details of something
■  The union was flexible on the salary issue but they drew the line at talking about health benefits.  - Set a limit on what one is willing to do or accept
■  Our boss said that wages would improve soon but he never followed through with his promise.  - To be consequent with what was agreed, to keep a promise
■  She got the short end of the stick in the deal.  - To be in a disadvantaged situation, to suffer the bad effects of something
■  My grandfather was such a hard-nosed businessman.  - To be tough, stubborn, or uncompromising
■  She has a card up her sleeve if they ever try to fire her, since she knows about all those secret business practices.  - Have a strategy kept secret and in reserve for use when needed
■  I kept looking over to see if she was impressed, but she wore a poker face throughout the presentation.  - A blank, emotionless expression that gives no indication of one's thoughts or intentions
■  After hours of fierce negotiations, the president got the upper hand.  - A position of advantage, power, and/or control
■ I know she really wants the promotion, but she really hit me below the belt by telling the boss about my personal problems.  - Unfairly target someone’s weakness or vulnerability
■  Management holds all the cards when it comes to the negotiations over job cuts.
 - To be in a position of power or control over someone or something else
■ The election is in the bag.
 - Certain/Sure to be won, achieved, or obtained
■ You deserve honesty, so I'm going to lay my cards on the table: I can't offer you this job, but we may have another position that you'd be good for.  - To be frank and outspoken;  to reveal something that you have kept hidden, such as your, intentions, opinion, etc.
■ We had no contract; it was done by a gentleman's agreement.  - An arrangement or understanding which is based on the trust of both or all parties, rather than being legally binding
■ I'll agree to some of your requests if you'll meet me halfway and allow me to implement some of my ideas.  - Compromise with someone, often in an argument or disagreement
■ Many consumers are still on the fence, waiting for a less expensive computer to come along.  - Undecided; not able to make a decision 
■ He's a nice guy, but he can play hardball when he needs to.  - To be firm and determined in order to get what you want
■ As a manager, you have to put your foot down sometimes, or your staff will walk all over you.  - Use your authority; be inflexible in your position or decision
■ (a) Why are you second-guessing me now? You agreed with this strategy just yesterday! / (b) He had to second-guess what the environmental regulations would be in five years' time.  - (a) Question or doubt someone or something retroactively. (b) Try to anticipate how something will happen or what someone will do 
■ Why don't you sleep on the offer and let us know your decision in the morning?  - Postpone a decision until the following day so that one has additional time to consider it
■ I kept trying to get our boss to find a bigger office, but she stood her ground.  - Refuse to change your opinion or give in
■ I’ve done everything I could. The ball is in your court now.  - It’s your turn to make a decision or take action
■ Andrea was about to play her trump card - without her signature none of the money could be released.  - A resource used to gain an advantage over others, often by being held and then used at an opportune time
■ Yes, we did have our disagreements but that's water under the bridge now.  - Problems that someone had in the past that they do not worry about because they happened a long time ago and cannot now be changed


Conversation questions

  • Do you tend to second-guess your decisions?
  • When was the last time you needed to sleep on something before making a decision?
  • Do you ever play hardball when you negotiate?
  • Talk about a time when you were on the fence about something.
  • Talk about a time when your manager put his/her foot down.
  • Would you say you're a hard-nosed negotiator or you don't mind meeting the other person halfway?
  • When did you feel that a negotiation or a deal was in the bag?
  • Do you always lay your cards on the table or do you tend to keep a card up your sleeve?
  • When was a time in which you didn't follow through with a promise?
  • Have you ever felt that you got the short end of the stick?
  • Did you cover much ground during your last meeting?
  • Who calls the shots in your department?
  • When was the last time you caved in to someone's demands?
  • Do you feel you always bend over backwards at work?
  • What do you do when a colleague starts beating around the bush during a meeting or a presentation?


Fill the gaps with the correct word:

  1. He said he was uncompromising, but after some pressure he __ in to our requests.
  2. Listen, I want to lay all my __ on the table - we can't pay that much money but we can give you this package instead.
  3. I always feel I'm bending over __ and get nothing in return.
  4. You should talk to my manager about that, she's the one calling the __.
  5. I thought it would be a smooth negotiation, but she was playing __. 
  6. It's a lot of money, let me __ on it and I'll tell you something tomorrow.
  7. They accepted our offer too quickly, I feel we came in __.
  8. He seemed like a nice guy, but we were unable to find common __ when we talked.
  9. I'm very flexible on the deadline, but I have to draw the __ with the budget.
  10. You promised to send me all the information, but you never followed __.
  11. I know we need to make a decision, but I'm still on the __.
  12. How are the negotiations going? - Well, it's not in the __ yet, but I think we've got the upper __.
  13. I didn't expect it, but he played his __ card and now we're stuck.
  14. We didn't have the best start, but that's water under the __ now.
  15. Please stop __ around the bush and get to the point.


[Download PDF with solutions and many more idioms!]

Keep learning English idioms:

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Practice idioms in conversation


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