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Quick Tip: Hostage Negotiator's Tone of Voice

by Jeff Thompson
June 2014

Enjoy Mediation Blog by Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson

Crisis and hostage negotiator's are involved in situations that are tense, stressful, and anxiety-filled. In order to try to reduce the overwhelming emotions being experienced by the person they are trying to help, the negotiator's tone of voice is an important tool that can help move the conversation toward a peaceful resolution.

According to Strentz (2012, p.81), after interviewing numerous hostage takers, a theme that emerged was that frequently the hostage takers could not recall the specific things the negotiator said to them that contributed to them turning him or herself in. What they did remember however was the tone of voice of the negotiator- it was one of concern for them as a victim and in need of help.

Think about that- the hostage taker felt the negotiator cared for them and felt like the negotiator saw them as a victim. Can you as a crisis/hostage negotiator talk to a hostage taker so he or she feels like you have genuine concern for them? This job is clearly not for everyone.

Even if you are not a hostage negotiator, consider the impact your tone has if you are a mediator, negotiator, ombuds, or conflict coach. Being aware of your tone is the first step to realizing the impact it is having in your role as being a guide in assisting people navigate through their dispute or conflict.

Your tone, like your other nonverbal (and verbal) communication such as your posture, gestures, and facial expressions is contagious- are your displaying calm, patience, understanding, and empathy?

The tone of voice of a hostage negotiator also is important because of its connection with he or her trying to build rapport and develop trust with the hostage taker. In order for a crisis/hostage negotiator to be effective in influencing the hostage taker to re-evaluate their situation and accept a peaceful resolution, it requires a negotiator to employ a variety of skills that must be used effectively based on the context of the situation.

Some quick tips with respect to a negotiator's tone of voice:

An FBI negotiator during a training once said talk to the person as if they are your friend. Your situation might be contextually different but ask yourself if your tone is displaying respect?

Speak slowly and clearly

Have your voice emit calmness while also being assertive (they complement- not contradict- one another)

Reduce speaking disfluencies ("umms" and "ahhs")

Use minimal encouragers ("mmm" and "okay") as it shows interest in what they are saying and encourages people to continue speaking (Read about more active listening skills here)

Be genuine- regardless of what words you use, your tone can show the person if you genuinely care or just "going through the motions"

A negotiator's tone of voice, when used effectively, is a critical tool that can guide the hostage taker towards a peaceful conclusion. This is not limited to just hostage negotiators as other conflict resolution professionals who are mindful of this will realize how your tone is an important tool in helping people involved in conflicts and disputes.

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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