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Negotiation in Crisis Management

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From Harrison Ford’s iconic performance as the President of the United States onboard Air Force One while the aircraft is hijacked by a Russian terrorist group, to Bruce Willis acting as John McClane, saving his family and others from German terrorists at the Nakatomi Plaza, hostage negotiations have become a prominent narrative in Hollywood due to the tense and emotional situations capturing the attention of audiences. Crisis negotiation, which involves specific techniques often used by law enforcement groups while communicating with those who are threatening violence to themselves or others (Strentz, 2012) , was believed to be established in 1979 by Bolz and Schlossberg of the NYPD (Van Hasselt, 2016). Nowadays, officers and enforcement agencies undergo special training in order to diffuse situations considered high threat to individuals. During the highly tense crisis situations, the ultimate goal of the negotiators is to work with the person in crisis towards a peaceful solution that previously seemed impossible (PON Staff, 2018).

With crisis negotiation situations increasing over the past few decades, these soft skills have become even more of a vital resource to enforcement agencies in order to handle dangerous situations with care. Today, the Crisis Negotiation Unit of the FBI has developed a training program, called the National Crisis Negotiation Course (NCNC) (Van Hasselt, 2016)ii which involves many role-playing exercises and education around developing active listening skills. Active listening is the process of restating or paraphrasing the sender’s message in their own words (Lewicki, 2007). By championing active listening skills, experienced negotiators can help better understand the suspect’s position and interests. These experienced negotiators demonstrate these skills by asking open-ended questions, as well as mirroring behaviors and dialect during discussion. By paraphrasing the suspect’s message and keeping an open dialogue between both parties it can help develop a strong relationship between both parties in hopes of working towards a collaborative resolution.

In conjunction with their enhanced active listening skills, other developed talents are often found within trained and experienced negotiator. During the stressful and intense discussions, it is imperative the negotiator maintains composure and stays calm and patient, in order to not trigger any adverse actions by the suspect. By maintaining a clear mind, and removing emotions from the discussions, it can help enhance active listening, and make the suspect feed that they are truly being heard and respected during the negotiations. Additionally, it is important for the negotiator to maintain agility and adapt as necessary during the discussions. By doing this, the two parties can help preserve the relationship (PON Staff 2018)iii, while attempting the reframe discussions back to a collective and peaceful solution.

In these situations, there are often four defined roles, each with specific responsibilities outside of the law enforcement personnel. The first is the advisor, who aids in psychoanalyzing and assessing those involved in discussions from the primary negotiators to the suspect. They may help understand underlying motivation for the action, and aid in strategies to diffuse the situation. The second role is that of an integrated team member, which aids in situation management, and may at times facilitate discussion with the suspect. The final two roles are the primary controller, often responsible for coordinating law enforcement activities during the situation, and the primary negotiator, ultimately, the face of the situation to the suspect (Hatcher, 1998).

Although each crisis negotiation situation is unique, similar steps are taken during each situation. First the situation is contained in order to maintain the safety of innocent bystanders before starting the negotiation process. It is equally important to additionally contain any outside influences on the suspect by minimizing contact between additional parties and the suspect in hopes of promoting a two-person negotiation, which, in time will help build trust and cooperation between both parties (Harvard Law School, 2018). Next, the primary negotiator starts to decipher the underlying interests of the suspect and understand the emotional motivation behind the situation, using active listening skills developed within their training programs. Throughout the process, the primary negotiator continues to develop a relationship with the suspect, prompting the suspect to “Talk



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