Police Negotiation Techniques from the New York City Police Department Hostage Negotiations Team

Learn these crisis negotiation skills from negotiators in the trenches

By on / Crisis Negotiations

Few negotiators can imagine negotiation scenarios more stressful than the kinds of crisis negotiations the New York City Police Department’s Hostage Negotiation Team undertake. But police negotiation techniques employed by the New York City Police Department’s Hostage Negotiations Team (HNT) in high-stakes, high-pressure crisis negotiation situations, outlined in an article from Jeff Thompson and Hugh McGowan, Ph.D., are critical for any negotiator faced with high-tension conflicts in business or diplomatic negotiations.

Thompson, a NYPD Detective, is a research scholar at Columbia University School of Law and a Ph.D. candidate at the Griffith University Law School in Queensland, Australia. McGowan is a former commanding officer of the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team, having led the HNT for 13 years. The NYPD Hostage Negotiation Team handles more crisis negotiations in one month than most departments do in a year and, in 2012 alone, the department handled 400 such negotiations.  In a previous year, one incident was well over 50 hours long and included a team of 17 crisis negotiators.

Crisis negotiation skills can make or break a negotiator in heated conflicts. Learn these skills from the experts at Harvard Law School when you download our FREE Special Report, Crisis Communication: How to Avoid Being Held Hostage by Crisis Negotiations.

Integrative Negotiations, Distributive Negotiations, and Crisis Negotiations: How Bargaining Skills Impact Hostage Negotiation Scenarios

Not unlike integrative negotiators who seek to create value between negotiating counterparts, and distributive negotiators who seek to maximize their claim to value in the negotiation at hand, hostage negotiators possess advanced conflict resolution skills and must be able to “apply a specific set of skills in a strategic manner that is based on the current context.”

The goal of police negotiation techniques is to “work with the person in crisis towards a peaceful solution that previously seemed impossible,” or, in other words, to reconcile a counterpart’s problems with the need to maintain the peace for society at large.

Using active-listening techniques, maintaining an open-minded approach, and building rapport to influence one’s counterpart are just a few of the “skills negotiators use to transcend these unique incidents and [which] are applicable to a variety of other [negotiating] situations.”

Important police negotiation techniques that the NYPD Hostage Negotiations Team has identified for future hostage negotiators also have applicability to the kinds of value-creating, integrative negotiations business negotiators undertake during the course of their careers, and should be included in any crisis negotiation training a negotiator pursues.

Here are the essential crisis negotiation skills of a NYPD HNT Negotiator:

Crisis Negotiation Skills #1. “Talk to Me”

The NYPD HNT’s motto, “Talk to Me,” emphasizes communication as an essential police negotiation technique for their crisis negotiators, and for good reason. Opening up avenues of communication to your counterpart signals that you are ready to listen, an integral first step to building rapport between negotiating counterparts by “build[ing] trust…as well as display[ing] empathy,” which can lead to further mutual gains at the bargaining table as the negotiation progresses beyond the initial stages.

Crisis Negotiation Skills #2. Patience

Not only is it important to allow your counterpart a forum to air concerns during a hostage negotiation, it is also critical for the crisis negotiator to be patient and “avoid jumping to conclusions and rushing quickly towards a resolution.” The patient negotiator seeks to build rapport so as to influence her counterpart’s actions; if she ignores this process, she greatly hinders her ability to influence her counterpart and resolve the situation in a peaceful manner.

Crisis Negotiation Skills #3. Active Listening

The NYPD Hostage Negotiations Team calls “active listening” an affective and effective skill. Active listening is an affective skill when it is used to build trust and rapport between negotiating parties with the effective byproduct of this process resulting in information gathering, which can help maintain an open dialogue with your negotiating counterpart.

Crisis Negotiation Skills #4. Respect

Active listening and patience are high on the list of the NYPD HRT’s conflict resolution tactics. Both result in your counterpart feeling she is respected and that her concerns are being heard and addressed.

Crisis Negotiation Skills #5. Calm

Displaying calm in the midst of a heated crisis negotiation is perhaps one of the most critical police negotiation techniques a hostage negotiator can master, because “the negotiator’s actions are contagious and . . . using a calm, understanding, and respectful tone is what helps the subject realize there is an alternative way out.”

Crisis Negotiation Skills #6. Self-Awareness

Self awareness for the NYPD HNT involves the dual realization that the crisis negotiator must establish a relationship with a complete stranger while keeping her communication strategic and purposeful in nature.

Crisis Negotiation Skills #7. Adaptability

A police negotiation technique that all skilled negotiators should possess in their negotiation skills repertoire is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to respond to those circumstances in a way that preserves the relationship they have built with their counterpart while also bringing them closer to their negotiation goals. As the NYPD HNT points out, “crisis and hostage negotiation is not a ‘cookie-cutter’ design where the same approach and actions are used each time in an identical way,” and, indeed, no skilled negotiator would ever approach the bargaining table with this mindset.

While negotiations are never uniform or universal, the relationship building and communication skills advocated by integrative bargainers do apply in nearly every negotiation scenario you can imagine.

Though not often fraught with the emotional complexity of a hostage negotiation, business negotiations still rely upon trust, rapport, and a mutual sense of respect in order to make the deal happen. Likewise, when dealing with difficult people in your daily life, active listening and a respectful, calm demeanor are proven techniques for preserving your relationship with your counterpart while also addressing her concerns in a thoughtful way.

Related Crisis Negotiations Article: A Cross-Cultural Negotiation Example – How to Overcome Cultural Barriers

Crisis negotiation skills can make or break a negotiator in heated conflicts. Learn these skills from the experts at Harvard Law School when you download our FREE Special Report, Crisis Communication: How to Avoid Being Held Hostage by Crisis Negotiations.

Originally published in 2014.

5 Responses to “Police Negotiation Techniques from the New York City Police Department Hostage Negotiations Team”

  1. Jon Hyman /

    If you can get a copy of the A&E Investigative Reports documentary called "Talk to Me" you can seen the NYPD Hostage Negotiation teams in action, doing what the outline says. Reply


    I would be interested in seeing more articles related to this topic. I also do crisis negotiations training for police. Reply

  3. Yasmin McNelis /

    Family mediation can also have the emotional complexity of a hostage negotiation. This is helpful as a skills focus for mediators. Reply

  4. Kathy Taberner /

    Thank you for this blog. It is interesting to read about the skills used in hostage negotiation and it seems the bottom line is it is the role of the negotiator to really see, hear and understand the other party. Once that person feels the negotiator is really there for them, a relationship can begin to develop between the parties which is build on trust and respect and helps the person de-escalate so the situation can be resolved. I would propose active listening is a fundamental skill for everyone to use in every aspect of life. The negotiator needs to understand the person involved, establish a relationship, build trust and respect so that person feels understood. Similarly everyone demonstrates respect for others when they actively listen, are open to hearing and understanding the perspectives of others while remaining patient and calm. When self-awareness is included into the mix, we begin to understand when and why our buttons are pushed by others and are better able to manage these triggers by being adaptable and thus staying calm. Active listening is fundamental to everything we do if we want to be respectful of those with whom we are conversing. Active listening is also a fundamental element of curiosity, a skill which is so necessary in today’s world if we are to build relationships and really see, hear and understand each other. Reply

    • Keith Lutz /

      Thank you for your response! Reply

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