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Listening, Empathizing, and Building Negotiation Rapport to Handle Crisis

by Jeff Thompson
December 2013

Crisis Negotiator Blog by Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson

Buying time is one of the most essential tasks of a crisis negotiator.

"In a crisis situation-where there is homicide, hostage taking or suicide-the suspect is generally not thinking rationally," Beatty said. "If you just keep a person from doing whatever it is they are intending long enough, they will calm down, think about it, and realize how bad of an idea it is to harm themselves or others."

WEST POINT, N.Y. (Feb. 16, 2011) -- West Point Class of 2013 Cadets Chris Beatty and Christian Zarnke recently attended the 32nd annual FBI and Baltimore County Police Department Hostage Negotiation Seminar in Baltimore, Md.

The two cadets, along with 600 law enforcement agents from around the country, learned about negotiating in crisis situations. The largest and oldest conference of its kind, the seminar combined guest speakers and case studies of recent hostage taking and suicide prevention activity.

The two days covered a variety of situations which showed the extent of scenarios a leader might face. The essential tasks for any crisis negotiator include buying time, active listening, showing empathy, building rapport and exerting influence to cause a behavioral change that results in the crisis being resolved peacefully with minimal damage.

For professional negotiators this means honing ones skills through the sharing of best practices. Both cadets gained valuable knowledge through every interaction and presentation, and learned that even if the negotiator arrives fully prepared and does everything right, the suspect might still harm himself or others.

"It is sad how sometimes you see these case studies and the negotiators do everything perfectly, but in the end the bad guy still decides to pull the trigger," said Beatty.

Buying time is one of the most essential tasks of a crisis negotiator.

"In a crisis situation-where there is homicide, hostage taking or suicide-the suspect is generally not thinking rationally," Beatty said. "If you just keep a person from doing whatever it is they are intending long enough, they will calm down, think about it, and realize how bad of an idea it is to harm themselves or others."

"It really was interesting to see how their style of negotiation tied in to what we're learning in class," said Zarnke, who is currently enrolled in MG390, Negotiation for Leaders. "Most of the process of hostage negotiation is building a relationship through communication and convincing them to commit to a less harmful resolution."

Another important tool of police negotiators is a third party intermediary. The police are sometimes aided by having people respected by the suspect help convince them to end the crisis peacefully. TPIs can come in all forms, from family members to, in one case studied, an EOD expert. This plays well to military applications: having an imam or tribal elder aid in the negotiation may well provide legitimacy to an officer seeking to successfully negotiate in a village or region…

Read the rest of the article here at the official US Army website.

Biography


Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.

Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.

He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.

(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)



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