Why Taking Hostages During A Negotiation Is Never A Good Idea

When the other side takes hostages, it's time for you to take action
When the other side takes hostages, it’s time for you to take action

We’ve all see what the image looks like on TV: the bad guys break-in somewhere, things go wrong, and all of a sudden they take hostages. This is never a good thing and it can very quickly go very wrong. The same thing can happen during your next business negotiation – the other side of the table may decide to take hostages — assets not people hopefully. If they do this, then how should you respond?

Why Do People Take Hostages During A Business Negotiation?

People take hostages during a business negotiation because they think that it’s going to help them to get what they want out of the negotiations. Simply put, hostages are collateral that the other side thinks that they are going to be able to trade for something that they want later on in the negotiations.

In a business negotiation, a hostage can be just about anything. The list includes goods, money, trade secrets, or even something as valuable as a company’s good name.

When the other side takes hostages during a negotiation, what they are trying to do is to limit the actions that you can take. Simply by them having hostages, you will find that you are unable to take actions that you normally would be able to.

How Can You React When Hostages Are Taken?

There is no way that you can really prevent the other side of the table from taking hostages during a negotiation if that’s what they have their mind set to do. What that means is that you’re going to have to come up with some countermeasures to use when they do it.

The first of these, and the one that seems to appeal to most male negotiators, is to consider taking some hostages of your own. Look, if they are going to do it then why shouldn’t you? Remember, in the end there’s going to be no difference between you and them if you take this route.

Another approach is to be willing to forfeit the hostage. Yes, just decide to let the other side keep whatever they’ve taken. Once you’ve made this decision, all of a sudden the value of the hostage immediately drops to zero for both sides. I’d like to caution you to not to expect to get the hostage back if you make this decision – the other side will never give you that satisfaction.

If you aren’t comfortable with either of these approaches, then another way to deal with a hostage situation is to simply ignore it. I know that this may sound like madness, but you’d be amazed at just how effective it can turn out to be. The other side desperately wants to talk about the hostages that they’ve taken. If you aren’t interested in having that discussion, it will end up driving them crazy.

These are all good ways to react when the other side takes hostages, but an even better thing to do is to prevent the hostages from being taken in the first place. If you want to diminish the possibility that the other side will take hostages in the first place, then you need to take the first steps.

One way to go about doing this will occur as the negotiations start. Right off the bat you can lay down some guidelines that will make it difficult for the other side to take hostages. Establish severe penalties for the taking of hostages. Your goal has to be to make sure that the other side understands that taking hostages will be an unprofitable course of action for them!

What Does All Of This Mean For You

All too often during a business negotiation, hostages can be taken. There is really no way that you can prevent the other side from doing this so you had better come prepared for it to happen.

If hostages are taken, then you need to have countermeasures at the ready. Making the other side pay a steep price for their action can eliminate the value that they think that they are going to get from taking hostages in the first place. An even better approach is to take steps as the negotiations start to ensure that the other side understands that taking hostages would be an expensive mistake for them.

A good negotiator understands that taking hostages is a way for the other side to try to have more bargaining power. Realize that this can happen and always come prepared with your own set of hostage rescue techniques!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: When the other side takes a hostage, what do you think the best first reaction on your part would be?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

During a negotiation, you’d hope that we’d all be adults about it. Right? Well it doesn’t always turn out that way. Using either physical or environmental means to intimidate the other side is a negotiation styles or negotiating techniques that the other side of the table may use as a common negotiating technique. You need to be aware of this before a negotiation starts so that you can come up with a way to deal with it.