Hearing Gary Noesner talk to Lanigan & Malone on Majic 105.7 about his new book, Stalling For Time: My Life As An FBI Hostage Negotiator, I felt compelled to get it. After all, hostage situations require communication skills on steroids. Â I was fascinated to learn how much of these situations are like any other business transaction and face the same challenges.
Lesson 1 – Internal communications make or break a transaction. In case after case, things went smoothly or not based more on the internal communication than anything else. If the tactical group wasn’t on the same page as the negotiating team, you ended up with situations like Waco, Tx. If everyone was on the same page, as a news-viewing public we don’t remember the cases because they went so smoothly and worked out in the end. I can recall many deals that were made or tanked based on the communication between sales and operations, or users and technologists, or other internal groups. Making every effort to keep communications open and flowing is critical to every deal.
Lesson 2 – Nothing is more important that strong rapport. I have taught hundreds of customer service and sales people how to build rapport. And no one is allowed to use the cheesy, “how are you today?” when starting a conversation with a new person over the phone as it cannot be sincere. It had never occurred to me how hard it would be to create rapport with kidnappers and even that it was necessary. Imagine, you have to create rapport with someone in the most stressful situation of their lives, with someone else’s life depending on you to do so, and it is highly likely the person is willing to hurt another person?! For the most part in our business transactions, we can assume the person on the other end of the phone wouldn’t purposely hurt someone else.
So how do they do it? First, they tried to understand the person as much as possible. They researched their background, talked to people who knew them, and generally tried to understand what was important to them. Then, as they talked they tried to address the individual’s goals. After all, someone in a standoff situation generally wants to know what will happen to them at the end. If the options are presented, they may find they have choices they didn’t know before. They reiterate these options and goals even when the kidnapper won’t answer – possibly for hours. The negotiator has to keep it positive, low key, and consistent but with enough variation that the kidnapper doesn’t get frustrated listening to them. Having done conference calls where I presented material only to have the audience muted and therefore received no feedback, I can tell you how disconcerting that is. To keep going and have faith that the other person is listening takes a lot of willpower.
So they get to know the person as much as possible, focus on the goals and then keep at it. Even if they don’t get a response. Wow. Doesn’t that sound like a sales message? You research your prospect, try to figure out their goals and then start hitting them with targeted messages. And they keep at it just like we all do!
Even in these life and death situations the same types of activities were necessary to really get the situation resolved in the right way. It was necessary for everyone on the back end to be on the same page and then to really stick with the plan and build rapport with the “prospect”. There were certainly significant differences including there were times the negotiator had to outright lie to the kidnapper to resolve the situation without loss of life, but in most situations those relationships are what made the difference.