(to be) at stake

- to be something that can be lost or gained

There was a lot at stake during the negotiations between the nurses and the government.

to back down

- to give up a claim for something, to not follow up on a threat

The government backed down on their threat to stop giving money to the school district.

to back out (of something)

- to get out of an agreement, to fail to keep a promise

The property developer backed out of the negotiations to build the new city hall.

(to go) back to the drawing board

- to go back and start something from the beginning

The negotiations for the contract failed so we had to go back to the drawing board.

the ball is in someone’s court

- it is the decision of another person/group to do something

The ball was in the union’s court after the company made their final offer.

to beat around the bush

- to talk about things without giving a direct answer

The manager spent the meeting beating around the bush and never really said anything important.

to bog down

- to slow to a stop

The negotiations bogged down when the union said they would not negotiate over the issue of part-time workers.

a bone of contention

- the subject or reason for a fight

The length of the project was a bone of contention during the talks between the city and the developer.

to break down

- to fail, to stop

The negotiations broke down last night when both sides refused to compromise.

to break off

- to stop or end suddenly

The government decided to break off talks about extending the trade agreement.

to break through

- to be successful after overcoming a difficulty

Finally there was a breakthrough in the talks aimed at ending the teacher’s strike.

to bring (something) off

- to achieve something

We were unable to bring off a deal to buy the new computer system for our company.

to bring (someone) to terms

- to make someone agree or do something

At first it seemed impossible for the two sides to settle their dispute but we were finally able to bring them to terms.

to bring up (something)

- to begin a discussion of something, to mention something

I tried hard not to bring up the subject of sales commissions during the meeting.

to call off (something)

- to stop, to quit, to cancel

The meeting was called off because everybody was busy with other business.

to call (someone’s) bluff

- to challenge someone to show that they can actually do what they say they can

The government called the union’s bluff when they threatened to go on strike.

to call the shots

- to be in charge

During the meeting it looked like the vice-president was calling the shots.

to cave in

- to weaken and be forced to give up

The company was forced to cave in to the demands of the workers for more money.

to close a deal

- to end a negotiation successfully

We had to work all night but we were finally able to close the deal.

to close ranks

- to unite and fight together

During the meeting we closed ranks and refused to compromise on any issue.

to come to terms

- to reach an agreement

After negotiating all night the government and the company came to terms on an arrangement for sharing the costs of the water system.

to come up

- to become a subject for discussions

Nothing related to the issue of quality came up during the meeting.

to come up with

- to produce or find a thought or an idea or an answer

I was praised by my boss when I came up with some good ideas during the meeting.

common ground

- shared beliefs or interests

There was little common ground between the two sides and the negotiations did not go well.

to cover ground

- to talk about the important facts and details of something

The number of questions seemed endless and we were unable to cover much ground during the meeting.

to cut a deal

- to make an agreement, to make a deal

We were able to cut a deal and left the meeting in a positive mood.

to cut (someone) off

- to stop someone from saying something

We tried to outline our proposal but we were cut off by our opponents.

(to go/continue) down to the wire

- to run out of time, to near a deadline

The negotiations continued down to the wire but finally ended successfully.

to drag on

- to prolong, to make longer

The talks between the company and the lawyers dragged on for several weeks.

to drag one’s heels

- to act slowly or reluctantly

The government dragged their heels in talks with the union about their new contract.

to draw the line

- to set a limit for what will be done

The union was willing to compromise on the salary issue but they drew the line at talking about health benefits.

to draw up (something)

- to put something (a contract or a plan) in writing

The lawyers drew up a contract for the new housing development on the government land.

to drive a hard bargain

- to bargain hard and make an agreement to one’s advantage

The sales manager drives a hard bargain and it is difficult to negotiate with him.

to drive at (something)

- to mean something, to want to say something

I couldn’t understand what the other negotiators in the meeting were driving at.

to face down (someone)

- to confront someone boldly

The government decided to face down the striking transportation workers.

to fall through

- to fail, to be ruined, to not happen

The deal for the new machinery fell through and we will have to look for another supplier.


- equally, evenly

We shared the profits with the other company fifty-fifty.

to follow through with/on (something)

- to finish an action that you have started

Our boss said that wages would improve soon but he never followed through with his promise.

to force (someone’s hand)

- to make someone do something that they don’t want to do at that time

We decided to force the hand of our opponents as we wanted to finish the negotiations quickly.

to get behind (a person or idea)

- to support, to help

Although we didn’t agree with the president we got behind his proposals at the meeting.

to get down to brass tacks

- to begin the work or business that must be done

Let’s get down to brass tacks and begin talking about the new contract.

to get down to business

- to start working or doing the business at hand

We decided to get down to business and try to finish the work quickly.

to get the message

- to understand clearly what is meant

I don’t think that the other side got the message regarding the direction that the negotiations were heading.

to get to first base

- to make a good start, to succeed

We haven’t been able to get to first base with the other side about the terms of the new contract.

to get to the bottom of (something)

- to find out the real cause of something

It was very difficult to get to the bottom of the financial problems in the company.

to get to the heart of (something)

- to find the most important facts or central meaning of something

We spent the morning trying to get to the heart of the problem with the computer supplier.

to give ground

- to move back or retreat from a position

We bargained hard but the other sales representatives refused to give ground.

to give in to (someone)

- to do what the other person wants rather than to fight and argue against him or her

After eight weeks of negotiations we gave in and agreed to sell the machinery at a discount.

to give-and-take

- to share, to give up part of what you want in order to make an agreement

After much give-and-take we reached an agreement regarding the property transfer.

to go back on (something)

- to not be faithful or loyal to one’s word or an agreement

The company went back on their word to give the employees a salary increase.

to go back to square one

- to go back to the beginning

The meeting was a failure and we were forced to go back to square one.

to go for broke

- to risk everything on one big effort, to try as hard as possible

After going for broke at the meeting we finally reached an agreement.

to go over like a lead balloon

- to fail to generate a positive response

The sales manager’s latest proposal went over like a lead balloon at the meeting

to go over well

- to be liked or successful

My idea to increase the number of employee evaluations went over well with the new managers.

to hammer out (an agreement/a deal)

- to work something out by discussion and debate

The negotiations lasted all night but finally we were able to hammer out an agreement.

to hang in the balance

- to have two equally possible results, to be uncertain

The outcome of the election was hanging in the balance after the two top candidates had an equal number of votes.

(to be) hard-nosed

- to be very strict, to be stubborn

The negotiatiors took a hard-nosed position during the talks for a new contract.

to have a card up one’s sleeve

- to hide something of value

I thought that the negotiations would be unsuccessful but my boss had a card up his sleeve that we didn’t know about.

to have a poker face

- to not show any reaction or emotion

Our boss had a poker face when he told us that our office would close.

to hold all the cards/aces/trumps

- to have all of the advantages

The management group was holding all the cards during the meeting with the union.

to hold out for something

- to keep resisting or refuse to give up until you get the desired results

The union has been holding out for a better deal and they do not plan to end their strike.

to hold out on (someone)

- to refuse information or something to someone who has a right to it

The new manager has been holding out on the company and will not tell anyone his plans.

to horse-trade

- to make a business agreement or bargain after careful bargaining and compromise

After several hours of horse trading we finally reached an agreement to buy the new computers.

(to be) in the bag

- to be certain

The contract for the new insurance policy is in the bag.

to iron (something) out

- to solve a problem

After agreeing on the contract we spent a few hours ironing out the final details.

to lay one’s cards on the table

- to be open and honest about one’s intentions

He laid his cards on the table during the meeting to sell the excess inventory.

to make headway

- to make progress

We have been bargaining hard all week and are finally making headway with the new agreement.

to meet someone halfway

- to compromise

The asking price for the chemicals was too high but we met the salesmen halfway and made an agreement.

to nail (something) down

- to make certain or sure

We worked hard to nail down an agreement to finish the staff room as quickly as possible.

(to be) off the record

- to be not published or revealed, to be a secret

I told my boss off the record that I would not be returning after the summer holiday.

to paint oneself into a corner

- to get into a bad situation that is difficult or impossible to escape

The negotiations were difficult but we won when the other side painted themselves into a corner over the bad insurance policy.

to play hardball with (someone)

- to act strong and aggressive with someone

The union has been playing hardball during the contract talks.

to play into (someone’s) hands

- to do something that another person can use against you

By losing his temper our manager played into the hands of the other side during the meeting.

to play one’s ace

- to use one’s best resources (the ace is the most powerful card), to use all of one’s power

I played my ace when I went in to ask my boss for more money.

to play one’s cards close to one’s chest

- to be secretive and cautious about something

My colleague was playing his cards close to his chest when he began to talk to our competitor.

to pull (something) off

- to succeed in doing something difficult or impossible

The contract seemed impossible to win but we pulled it off through our skillful negotiating.

to pull (something) out of a hat

- to get something as if by magic, to invent, to imagine

We couldn’t solve the problem but at the last moment we were able to pull a solution out of a hat.

to put one’s cards on the table

- to be open and honest about one’s intentions

It looked like the meeting was going to fail so we put our cards on the table to give it one last try.

to raise/up the ante

- to increase what is at stake or under discussion in a dispute or conflict

The small country raised the ante in the trade dispute with the larger countries.

a raw deal

- treatment that is not fair

The sales manager was given a raw deal when he was forced to give up his position as chief negotiator.

to reach a stalemate

- to arrive at a position where no progress is being made

The talks to buy the new computers reached a stalemate and it will be difficult to get them started again.

to reach first base

- to make a good start, to succeed

We were unable to reach first base in our discussions with our competitors.

to read between the lines

- to understand the meaning of something by guessing at what is not said

The salesman didn’t say that he had no products available but we read between the lines and saw that he didn’t have any.

a setback

- a delay or handicap

The bad weather was a setback in our efforts to get the material delivered on time.

to smooth (something) over

- to make something seem better or more pleasant

We tried to smooth over the problem between our boss and the president of the other company.

to stack the deck (of cards) against (someone)

- to trick someone, to arrange things unfairly

The manager had stacked the deck against his opponent when he went into the meeting.

to stand one’s ground

- to maintain and defend one’s position

Although the other negotiating team was very aggressive we stood our ground and bargained very hard.

to start/get the ball rolling

- to start/begin an activity or action

It was time to get the ball rolling so we began the meeting at once.

to stick to one’s guns

- to defend an action or opinion despite an unfavorable reaction

We stuck to our guns during the meeting and asked for more time to consider the proposal.

to take sides

- to join one group against another in a debate or quarrel

I was very careful not to take sides in the discussion about buying a new computer.

to talk (someone) into (something)

- to get someone to agree to something, to persuade someone

We were unable to talk the other members of our team into delaying the meeting until next week.

to talk (someone) out of (something)

- to persuade someone not to do something

I tried to talk our vice-president out of offering a price that was too low.

to talk (something) over

- to discuss something

We asked for some time during the meeting to talk over the new proposal.

to throw (someone) a curve

- to mislead or deceive someone

The purchasing manager threw us a curve when he said that he wouldn’t need any of our products until next year.

(do something) to the letter

- do something exactly, do something with nothing done wrong or left undone

The union representative followed the contract agreement to the letter.

a trump card

- something that is kept back to be used to win success if nothing else works

Although we appeared weak during the meeting we had some secret information to use as our trump card.

to turn thumbs down on (something)

- to reject something

The other negotiating team turned thumbs down on our wish to postpone the meeting until tomorrow.

under the wire

- at the very last moment

We were finished the documents and sent them to the lawyer right under the wire.

to water (something) down

- to change and make something weaker

They tried to water down our proposal for the new quality control system.

to wind up

- to bring or come to an end, to finish, to stop

The meeting wound up at midnight and we were able to go home.

to wrap up

- to finish (a job)

We wrapped up the meeting early and went home for the weekend.

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