Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Principles of Crisis Negotiation

Principles of crisis negotiation- by Scott Tillema

As police crisis negotiators, we come from a wide variety of backgrounds, agencies big and small, urban and rural. We have received training from a wide variety of different sources, teaching us various techniques of communication and influence. Yet, we do common work and and have a common goal, to use verbal influence to peacefully resolve a critical incident. Whether it be a hostage situation or a single individual in crisis, if we expect to find success in our negotiations, there are a few principles that are consistent and fundamental.

1.      Seek first to understand.
We cannot solve a problem if we don't understand what it is. It is much more efficient for us to start off a negotiation by telling someone to put the gun down or come off the ledge, but how can we realistically expect to change a person's behavior without knowing and appreciating their mindset?
If we try to employ a band-aid resolution to someone in crisis, it can have deadly results. It is critical to time to ask the questions and learn why the person feels the way they do before we tell them what they should or should be doing. The simple process of allowing someone in crisis to have the time and opportunity to discuss their feelings is an important first step in crisis communication. It can be incredibly therapeutic for someone to just feel listened to, and by listening and working to understand someone, we are on a great path toward a safe resolution. Mindset drives behavior, if we want behavioral change, we need to get into the mind.

2.      Know when to deliver your message.
Timing is everything. Visualize a person in crisis; you may see an emotional domestic situation, you may think of a victim or witness to a violent crime, or perhaps a parent who has just lost their child. In all of these situations police deal with, we are initially encountering people overflowing with emotion. We all should know that as emotion is high, logic is low, yet we've all seen a police officer encounter a person in crisis and immediately try to exert influence without trying to calm, comfort, or build rapport with the subject. When we take time to prepare a person to receive our message, we will find much greater success in delivering our message effectively. This goes well beyond just calming someone down; once we've restored some logic and reasoning (in the cases where we can), we can employ various hooks and themes and expect they will be received and processed. We have to become masters at convincing someone of something we haven't yet asked them to do. Once we have already persuaded them to believe something, it makes it very easy for us to then ask them to do it.

3.      It's not what you say, it's how you say it!
The rate, rhythm, pressure and volume of our speech is critically important. Each of these pieces come together to make up our tone. While the words we choose are certainly important, the way we say those words has been shown to be much more significant. How many police officers or crisis negotiators spend any time thinking about or practicing their delivery? I've been part of negotiator training and evaluations where we critique what the negotiator says, but often overlook how they present it. Challenge yourself and your team to continuously focus not only on what is being said, but more importantly on the delivery of that message.

4.      Know the power of respect.
Any police officer with time on the street should have figured this one out, yet some view negotiations as confrontational rather than collaborative effort. From the first word you say, not only do you have to convey respect to the subject, but you must constantly listen to them and work to build rapport to further that respect. Even the perception of disrespect can make it nearly impossible for your team to achieve a surrender. We gain the opportunity to exert influence once we allow the subject in crisis to know and trust and respect us. If these elements have never been developed, or for some reason are lost in the course of a negotiation, it is not realistic that a suicidal subject or emotional hostage taker will feel strongly enough about their relationship with you, that they will allow you to guide them to a safe resolution. Know the power of respect.

For anyone with experience doing this work, it is immediately evident how important each of these principles are and how their relationship with each other will further our negotiation goals. 

I encourage you to share these concepts with your new negotiators and veteran police officers alike, taking the time to illustrate each point with your own experiences. Our work is incredibly important and it is critical that we remember these principles as we continue to impact lives. 
To hear more about these principles of crisis communication, I invite you to watch “The Secrets of Hostage Negotiators,” (