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Crisis Negotiation

Core Skills Of Hostage Negotiators

1) Active Listening

Simply put, active listening is the most important set of communication skills that a crisis negotiator must not only use, but must use properly. The micro skills of active listening include: using open-ended questions, emotional labeling, mirroring/reflecting, silence, and paraphrasing. Active listening allows the negotiator to gather important information about the other person (in negotiation terms it is the interest behind the position) while it also equally important it demonstrates empathy and rapport.

Active listening is important as it allows the person in crisis to keep talking and be engaged. That is a good thing- think about the last time you were in a crisis, did you want to talk or listen to the other person. Remember that people in crisis want to talk- not listen!. Active listening allows the other person to talk and your brief comments lets them know they are being heard. This reduces their negative emotions.

Reflect on that for a moment.  The emotional label lets the person know that you understand their emotion and the open-ended question invites them to continue talking and most importantly to vent.

2) Time

Time is said to be a negotiator’s greatest ally. Better to slow things down rather than trying to get a quick resolution.  Rushing the process will only add to the negative emotions. The LENS model (Law Enforcement Negotiation Stairway) reminds negotiators to slow it down , gain control and to take one step at a time when attempting to gain voluntary compliance.

The key steps to the LENS Model are:

  1. Communication: Listen more than you talk
  2. Negotiation: Allow the person to be part of the decision-making process
  3. Gaining Voluntary compliance: Remember, that is your goal! ​

Using each step helps slow the process down and allows the other four skills to be used.

3) Empathy and Rapport

If we as negotiators are trying to influence a behavioral change in the person, it is necessary to understand their current emotions and behavior.  Empathy is just that- seeing and understanding the perspective of another.  You need this in order to be an effective negotiator and you need to demonstrate it by taking your time to listen.

Building rapport involves giving the person your attention, being positive, and coordinating your communication.  It is no surprise then rapport relies heavily on active listening. In order for rapport building to be effective, you have to ensure your words and body language is congruent.  This includes your voice tone, using open-handed gestures, and having eye contact.

4) Influence

With empathy and rapport you can de-escalate a bad situation. In a critical situation, we have to negotiate and try to resolve the immediate crisis at hand. There is a purpose to slowing the process down and using active listening to demonstrate empathy and build rapport- it is not just to build that connection with them.  Negotiation 101 tells us to have a goal and not lose sight of it. It is the same in other negotiations; you are trying to get something.


5) Control

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. It will most likely involve having to “give a little” to “get a little”, just like any negotiation. Let the person be part of the process (ask versus tell).  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, your calmness can help de-escalate the tense situation.


( Content simulation by Negotiation Today International)