Think Like a Hostage Negotiator

By — on / Daily, Negotiation Skills

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?

Let’s explore another relm of negotiation advice for an answer: hostage negotiatons. 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. Here are five lessons from hostage negotiators to defuse 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.

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