The Unofficial Language Of Negotiation

It's all in the delivery

Contract negotiation can be a bit tiresome, especially when it's drawn out over days with countless back-and-forth's. So, spruce up those discussions with some of our favorite negotiation idioms to get to that arbitration.

Just sign on the dotted line

This dotted line of course refers to the spot on the legal contract where you put your "John Hancock." It was first recorded back in 1775. One school of thought says that the phrase came from the days when printers set type by hand and forms were printed with dots on them (signaling places for the lines to be filled in).

Nowadays, car salespeople like to roll this one out when they're trying to quickly lock down a sale. It may not be a done deal yet, but if you put your signature on the dotted line, it is.

A done deal

Nothing's set in stone yet. Everyone's happy, though, and things are looking good. Just cross a few T's and dot a couple I's, run it by the boys in Legal, and I think this is a done deal.

This slang phrase means "something unlikely to change, a fait accompli." First written down in 1979, it may have come from the phrase done thing, which was popular in the 1600s. Let's cite a common example from the world of Major League Baseball: "Barring any unforeseen problems with his physical exam, the contract extension for the Giant's star player is a done deal."

Signed, sealed, delivered (I'm yours)

"The house is sold—signed, sealed, delivered." (Ah, but there's a specific meaning behind the word sealed. Read on.)

This idiom refers to a legal deed, which has to be signed by the seller, sealed with a wax seal, and delivered to the new owner. It was used more loosely in the first half of the 1900s, typically for house deeds. Of course, then the great Stevie Wonder wrote his hit song and escalated the phrase into history.

"It's black, it's white, yeah, yeah, yeah"

When the lawyer lays out the deal on the table, they say, "It's all there in black and white." That means every bit of the contract is totally visible and ready for your perusal. They're ready to make a deal and lock this sucker down, and most likely they're hovering nearby with a glint of avarice in their eye.

No strings attached

This deal's got no strings attached. That means there aren't any hidden clauses or codicils. No restrictions, no special considerations, no obligations, no limitations. What you see is what you get. No strings attached!

The expression dates back to the mid-1900s. No strings attached can also refer to a particular type of dating arrangement—you're in a relationship but seeing other people. Another possible reference may come from the cloth industry, where a flaw in the fabric was marked with a small string. No string means no flaws.

Read between the lines

There's a hidden meaning, an implication hiding in there . . . you know it, and now you're really analyzing what's written in order to find it. Maybe it will require a little out-of-the-box thinking in order to locate it.

This term comes from cryptography, where, in one code, reading every second line of a message gives a different meaning from that of the entire text. Reading between the lines can be a tricky thing, especially if you don't know the author or the speaker—it's harder to decipher their true intent without a little personal context, no?

My word is my bond

There's no legal standing where this term is concerned. Here's an example: You're late with this month's rent. You tell the landlord, "I promise I'll pay you on the 10th of the month. You have my word, and my word is my bond." It's implied that you would never break a promise. You're signing on your absolute moral bottom line. However, that moral bottom line won't hold up in court.