The Importance of Control During Crisis Incidents

by Jeff Thompson
January 2017

Crisis Negotiator Blog by Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson

If a person is in crisis, the odds are they feel like something important is missing- control. A person in crisis often feels like they have no control over their life and that is what pushes them into a crisis. Making that person be part of the decision process is vital to ultimately getting what you want. In non-police negotiations it will most likely involve having to “give a little” to “get a little.” It is called negotiation for a reason. Let the person be part of the process (instead of demanding). Allowing them to be part of the process starts with letting them talk and it continues with them being part of the negotiation process.

One of the first things we teach police officers is that by giving the other person a sense of control does not mean giving up your control. It is the same for you when you are involved in a crisis situation that includes you negotiating. The goal is voluntary compliance (note the voluntary part of it). Ultimately you have to decide what your other options and then decide what is best for you.

Keep in mind you also have to keep control of yourself- especially your emotions. Emotions are contagious, and if you are entering a crisis situation where the other person's actions are being dictated by a variety of negative emotions, you want to make sure you are not getting caught up in their emotions. Rather, by controlling yourself (voice tone and other nonverbal cues) your calmness can help de-escalate the tense situation.

Here's some from Eric Barker's great blog on the role of control, it's impact on reducing fear, and  it's importance in de-escalating a crisis:
 
It’s All About Control
When we feel in control, we’re not afraid. When we have a level of comfort with something, it’s not scary.
Anything that gives you a feeling of control over your situation helps you keep your cool.
Without a feeling of control, when stress gets high we literally can’t think straight.
Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

Amy Arnsten studies the effects of limbic system arousal on prefrontal cortex functioning. She summarized the importance of a sense of control for the brain during an interview filmed at her lab at Yale.
“The loss of prefrontal function only occurs when we feel out of control. It’s the prefrontal cortex itself that is determining if we are in control or not. Even if we have the illusion that we are in control, our cognitive functions are preserved.” This perception of being in control is a major driver of behavior.

And here is one last bit from Barker on the impact being prepared and training has, especially in relation to reducing fear:

Fear prevents clear thinking and causes you to procrastinate. Now that you’ve dealt with it a bit you can make some real progress.
What else gives a feeling of control and helps fight fear? Preparation.

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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