What does negotiation mean?


Did you know there is no word for Negotiation in many languages?


When I was writing my dissertation on Negotiation, every time I called my parents oversees and they asked me what the subject of my negotiation was, I had to explain the concept of negotiation, because there is no word in Farsi language for negotiation. The same is true about Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Arabic and many other languages.  What does the word negotiation bring to your mind? At the outset of a situation requiring “negotiation,” what kind of emotions and expectations do you conjure up?


The term has vastly different meanings depending on cultural connotations and personal associations. To some, it evokes a hostile scene, a winner-takes-all wrestling match. To others, it might simply connote an opportunity for applying leveraging techniques for personal gain. And then there are those who look on negotiation as an opportunity for cooperation and harmonious endeavor toward mutual fulfillment.


Let’s look at this complex word: negotiation. The exercise of clarifying it might help us appreciate the challenges we have ahead of us, as well as offer some clues to overcome them — especially since language must bridge vastly diverse cultures like those of 21st century America.


The English word negotiation can mean “to deal or bargain with others, as in the preparation of a treaty or contract or in preliminaries to a business deal.” But it can also mean “to move through, around, or over in a satisfactory manner” or “to maneuver a difficult dance step without tripping” or “to navigate sharp curves.”


In the original Latin, negōtitāus denoted trade or business. It was a compound of neg (not) and ōtium (leisure). In other words, negotiation means “that which is not leisure.” Picture yourself lolling on a canvas chair on a tropical beach with an iced tea in your hand. Now picture everything that is not that. That, according to the Roman Legion and its legacy, the Romance languages of Europe, is negotiation. Negotiation is no day at the beach. It is a constant part of our lives.


In many non-Romance languages there are no words for negotiation as it is used in English. Since our melting pot of American culture comprises people of many backgrounds, it should be no surprise that misunderstandings abound of what the word negotiation means and what its practice involves. In the Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish languages, the closest approximation to the English word negotiation means discussion and debate, generally with no presumption of agreement. For instance in Arabic (mufawadat), in Farsi (mozakereh), and in Turkish (muzakere) the most applicable translation connotes a discussion, recitation, or even praise.


So in negotiation it behooves us to prime the situation by establishing the awareness and intention that it is a co-creation for mutual gain.


To find out more about how to supercharge your skills in negotiation, visit my website to find trainings, events and information about the book.