What Can Negotiators Learn From Police Hostage Negotiators?

There is no more high stakes negotiating than that which is done by police hostage negotiators
There is no more high stakes negotiating than that which is done by police hostage negotiators
Image Credit: Gonzalo Alonso

As negotiators, we often view a negotiation that we are involved in as being a high-stakes operation. The future of the company, somebody’s career, or a quarter’s profits may all be on the line. However, nothing that we do stacks up to the challenges that are faced by police hostage negotiators. Each one of their negotiations can quite literally be a matter of life and death. Since these types of negotiators deal with such high-stakes situations, you’d think that we could learn a thing or two from them…

Rule #1: Talk To Me

Being a negotiator is hard work. Being a police hostage negotiator is even harder work. In New York City, the police negotiation team is kept very busy: they handle up to 400 negotiations per month! Each of these negotiations is different and last year they were involved in one that lasted for over 50 hours and ended up involving a team of 17 crisis negotiators. The NYPD’s hostage negotiator team has a motto: “talk to me”.

Communication is an essential police negotiation technique for their crisis negotiators no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used. There is a very good reason for this. The ultimate goal of any hostage negotiation is for the negotiator to build a sense of rapport with the person that they are talking with. In order to make this happen, they need to show that they are ready to listen to what the person is saying. This means that they have to open channels of communication to the person that they will be talking with. The negotiator wants to build trust and display empathy. The goal is to find a way to work with the person in crisis towards a peaceful solution that previously seemed impossible.

Rule #2: Patience

As you can well imagine, the one thing that a police hostage negotiator wants to accomplish is to wrap the negotiations up as quickly as possible. There may be lives at stake and the number of people who are involved in the situation can be quite large. The sooner that the event is over, the quicker everyone can get back to their real jobs. That’s why it can be so hard to remember that a key to a successful negotiation is patience. The police have to realize that they need to allow the other side time to air their concerns.

What the police negotiators don’t want to do is to jump to conclusions or rush too quickly to try to reach a resolution to the situation. The goal of the police negotiator has to be to build a sense of rapport with the other side in order to be able to influence their actions. If this is something that the police ignore, then they’ll find out that they have hindered their ability to influence the other side and it’s going to take a lot longer to find a peaceful resolution to the current situation.

Rule #3: Active Listening

One of the big challenges that a police hostage negotiator faces is that the other side can become fed up with the negotiations. This can especially happen if the negotiations drag on for a while. In order to build a sense of trust with the other side, the police negotiators need to take the time and engage in active listening. This is viewed as being both an effective and affective skill for the negotiator to have.

In order to resolve any hostage negotiation, the police have to collect as much information about what is going on as they can. Taking the time to really listen to what the other side is saying is a key part of doing this. If you gather information about the other side, the negotiator is going to have a better chance of being able to maintain an open dialog with the other side. In the end, this is the key to finding a resolution to the situation.

What All Of This Means For You

The negotiations that we find ourselves engaged in are important to us. However, we need to realize that there are other principled negotiations and negotiators who are often engaged in real-life life-and-death negotiations: police hostage negotiators. How they go about accomplishing their difficult tasks can teach all of us some lessons about negotiating.

In order to resolve an issue that a police negotiator has been called to it’s critical that both sides are talking with each other. Police negotiators have to have open channels of communication with the other side. These types of negotiations require patience on the side of the negotiator. They don’t want to jump to conclusions or attempt to rush to a resolution. In order to build a sense of rapport with the other side, the police negotiator needs to engage in some active listening to show that they care what the other side is saying.

No, the negotiations that we engage ourselves in are not nearly as important as the ones that police negotiators find themselves in on a daily basis. However, they can teach us important lessons on how to deal with the other side in order to be able to reach an agreement. If we follow what the police negotiations can teach us, then we can hopefully be as successful as they are.

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

Question For You: How long do you think that a police hostage negotiator should let a negotiation drag on?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Every negotiation that we engage in is different. The other side of the table has their own set of goals that they want to accomplish and how they plan on going about achieving them can be different during each negotiation. Sometimes the other side may decide that they want to play hardball with us – they plan on using extreme demands and few concessions. When this happens, we need to be ready and know how to deal with the situation.