As Europe and the UK restart negotiations on Brexit, perhaps both sides will use signposting as they pick their way through complex agreements.

Successful persuasion, like all aspects of negotiation, requires clarity in communication and a technique much used by skilled communicators and negotiators is Signposting.  As the name suggests, it lets the other party know what to expect before it happens.

An average negotiator who wants to ask a question will usually just go ahead and ask it.  The skilled negotiator tends to say something like: “I’d like to ask you a question about that – what’s the reason for insisting on that installation date?” or perhaps “Could I just clarify something before you go on – how are you planning to gain acceptance for this idea from the staff?”

The same is true of statements and proposals.  Before making such a contribution, particularly if it is important, the skilled negotiator will often say: “Could I make a point here please?” or “I’d like to put forward a suggestion here which I think could help to resolve our difficulty”.

Research shows that Signposting of this kind is used more than four times as frequently by skilled negotiators and one of its functions is to bring clarity and focus to key points in the persuasion process.  It “tunes in” the other party to what’s coming next and helps them to listen and understand you.  It can also make it very clear what you expect in return!

But Signposting has other functions as well:

Slowing the negotiation – the pause introduced by the label allows the speaker additional thinking time to formulate the contribution and gives both parties the chance to clear their minds for the next point.

Cooling a heated discussion – by slowing the process and introducing a little formality, Signposting helps to keep the negotiation cool and rational.

Creating agreement to listen – only a very unreasonable person will respond to “Could I ask you a question” with “No”.  The “Yes” or “Of course” may not guarantee the answer you would like, but it will get the other party’s agreement to listen carefully and listening is crucial for successful negotiation.