Applying Hostage Negotiation Techniques

By on / Conflict Resolution, Daily

Upset by a delay in the delivery of one of your products, a longtime buyer threatens to turn to the media unless you meet his extreme demands. Not only is the relationship in jeopardy, but your company’s reputation seems to be as well. What should you do?

Before you make a decision, let’s explore another realm of negotiation advice for an answer: hostage negotiations. Before you dismiss such life-and-death situations as irrelevant to your professional career, consider the lessons that hostage negotiators have derived from their experiences⎯ lessons they believe can help us settle less violent, but still vexing, negotiation crises.

The same factors that influence your professional and personal negotiations⎯high stakes, heightened emotions, multiple parties, no time to prepare and outside interference⎯are the same that characterize hostage negotiations. The September 2008 issue of Negotiation newsletter describes five lessons from hostage negotiators to help diffuse your situation:

  1. Gain control of the situation by insisting on one-on-one talks.
  2. Explore the feelings underlying the other side’s demands.
  3. Allow heated emotions to defuse through the passage of time.
  4. Collaborate on solving the other party’s short-term problems.
  5. Help your counterpart save face when you come out ahead.

With any luck, you’ll never be required to negotiate for 50 hours straight, as some hostage negotiators have done. But you can learn from their patience and perseverance. Dealmakers and disputants are likely to feel their anger and frustrations subside over time. For this reason, working slowly through a heated situation is usually a better idea than trying to wrap up the matter quickly.

3 Responses to “Applying Hostage Negotiation Techniques”

  1. Penny Parker /

    I also found Thomas Strentz's book, The Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation, to be very useful in identifying the key team roles that should be filled in a crisis negotiation. Several of these roles may be filled by the same person or multiple persons, but all should be identified & covered in a crisis. When a complex, fast moving crisis negotation in a commercial setting unfolds I found these FBI-oriented team roles to have useful analogues in the business world: 1. Lead negotiator 2. Secondary negotiator 3. Information officer (to coordinate the collection of key information needed by the negotiating team) 4. Think tank (to help process information & demands coming in; to brainstorm & offer ideas to the lead negotiator & team for how best to respond to the latest developments) 5. tactical liaison (to keep other parts of the company informed and integrated into the latest thinking & developments in the negotiations) 6. Chronographer (to establish an up to date information recording system that enables all relevant stakeholders in the company to know what the latest status, developments, demands and deadlines are) 7. behavioral science expert/interpreter (someone who is familiar with the counter party's language and culture, who can help interpret the demands and views coming in from the other side) 8. Messenger (someone to coordinate the efficient transmission of messages to other parts of the company and/or to the appropriate representatives of the counter party) 9. guard (someone to tactfully deal with interlopers; to help keep the crisis room clear from disruptions and interested onlookers who would like to know what is happening but whose interruptions threaten to undermine the negotiation team's ability to focus & deal with the crisis) 10. Technician (someone standing by with the appropriate technical skills who can help with any IT systems that break down during the negotiations) Reply

  2. negotiation tactics /

    I never considered that hostage negotiation could be used in real life. But now after reading this post I can see it is exactly the same type of situation. Very nice and informative post. Reply

  3. Rafael /

    Great text and comment. I would add the good practice in hostage negotiations of trying to make your counterpart focus on the desired outcome and then negotiate step by step on whichever action or agreement will help us get closer to it. Another option, in case the other is at least a little open to dialogue, is to make a mutual agreement to leave out any action that will difficult a good outcome. That would sound like this: we will do everything on our hands to find a good way to get through this difficulty, but we both have to agree on some principles to look from now on: we will not use threats, manipulation, hostility or power display as means for getting a result, not only because the outcome might damage one or both of us, but also because it would lead us apart from the main objective for which we are in this situation. Reply

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