Many folks are surprised that the essential elements of crisis negotiation are the same as other types of negotiation. Keys include anticipation, patience, listening, strategizing, and resolution.
What is Crisis Negotiation?
The United States Department of Justice describes it this way:
“Incidents involving barricaded subjects, hostage takers, and persons threatening suicide represent especially stressful experiences for police officers who respond to them, and crisis negotiators should establish contact with subjects, identify their demands, and work to resolve tense and often volatile standoffs without loss of life.
A coordinated response involving crisis negotiators, tactical police officers, and police supervisors is necessary so that handling a crisis incident is not delayed by crisis negotiators having to explain or justify their intended course of action. To enhance cooperation, crisis negotiators and tactical police officers should train together on a regular basis…Police field commanders should resist the tendency to monitor the crisis negotiation process personally, especially since much of the insight into the minds of troubled subjects comes from the specialized psychological training crisis negotiators receive. Concern for hostage and police officer safety dictates that police officers respond to a crisis incident at the lowest force level possible, and police commanders should be prepared to supervised a negotiated settlement.”
The Harvard University Law School Program on Negotiation lists the characteristics of a crisis negotiation:
“What is crisis management in negotiation? Just like a hostage negotiation, a crisis negotiation in the business world usually has the following traits:
High stakes, including the need to communicate to resolve a tense situation.
Just as hostage negotiators don’t know what a hostage taker will do next, business negotiators may have no idea how a crisis will unfold.
Heightened emotions. In tense situations, negative emotions tend to run high. It’s common for people to lash out and escalate the situation.
Multiple parties and teams. Crisis negotiations are often complex, requiring the participation of many different groups and teams.”
What Are the Effective Steps in Crisis Negotiation?
The Harvard University Law School Program on Negotiation also lists the key effective steps of of a crisis negotiation:
1. Prepare for crisis. Organizations benefit from putting crisis-management plans in place. During talks with a new business partner, discuss the possibility of a dispute arising during the life of your contract and how you might handle it. For example, you might insert a clause requiring that you meet regularly to discuss problems that have come up and how to address them. You might also include contract provisions for dispute resolution, such as requiring the parties to engage in mediation before filing a lawsuit.
2. Establish ground rules. If you do find yourself in the midst of a crisis negotiation, such as a dispute over a delivery delay, take time before you begin substantive talks to establish the ground rules. For example, you might suggest that you make an explicit commitment to being honest and to following up your promises with actions. According to FBI crisis negotiator Richard J. DeFilippo, hostage negotiators earn hostage takers’ trust by being honest. Ground rules establish a foundation for trust, and they also give you room to say no to extreme demands. Hostage negotiators find that hostage takers become more willing to accept a denial of their requests when they believe they are being treated ethically.
3. Confront emotions head-on. Because most hostage situations are driven by strong emotions, hostage negotiators have developed effective strategies for managing those emotions. Jack J. Cambria, the retired commanding officer of the New York Police Department’s hostage negotiation team, stresses the importance of listening carefully to a hostage taker’s demands with the goal of identifying his primary underlying problem or motivation. Common hostage negotiation tactics include managing the hostage taker’s anxieties through active-listening techniques, such as self-disclosure, paraphrasing, and supportive remarks. Similarly, business negotiators dealing with a crisis need to remember that time spent exploring the emotions behind a counterpart’s stated positions is never time wasted.
4. Don’t rush the process. Business negotiators often assume that a crisis negotiation needs to be conducted as quickly as possible. If someone is threatening to go to the press if you can’t reach an agreement, for example, you may assume you have to reach a deal swiftly. Somewhat surprisingly, hostage negotiators advise us to slow down the negotiation process. Because hostage-takers’ strong emotions have a tendency to de-escalate over time, negotiators such as DeFilippo and Cambria counsel patience. “Time is on our side, and we take all the time we need,” says Cambria. Working methodically through a heated situation is usually the best approach.
5. Strengthen the relationship. When a police negotiator tells a hostage taker, “We’re in this together,” he’s not just paying lip service, according to retired NYPD police commander Robert J. Louden. Rather, the negotiator is trying to create the kind of bond that will allow the parties to find a solution to the crisis together. Similarly, in the business world, their problem is your problem, so focus on collaborating on an agreement that satisfies you both.
Crisis negotiation is one of the most challenging situations you will face as a negotiator. In such stressful times, all negotiators can benefit from following the motto of the NYPD’s negotiation team: “Talk to me.”
Edina (Minnesota) Police Crisis Negotiation Training Program
This excellent video also lays out the steps of crisis negotiation:
-Prepare for the worst.
-Listening to them is the key.
-Establish a line of communication.
-Build rapport. Let them vent.
-Work with them through trust to create a compromise, workable resolution.
-Empathize and ask the right questions.
-Don’t place blame. Try to understand.
Peaceful resolution is the key.
From Hostage Crisis Negotiations to Business Crisis Negotiations
Businesses and governmental entities can learn much from the crisis negotiations above. Their crises may not be as potentially violent, but most involve high emotions and need resolution.
Involving Outside Assistance
In some crisis cases, emotions are so high that one needs to leave their egos aside and secure outside assistance.
Executive Negotiation Coaches: The HackerStar Negotiation Case developed by the University of Missouri Law School presents this example. Emotions ran high in this partnership dispute so the business’s attorney advised both sides to secure executive negotiation coaches. These coaches coached each party before the negotiation and during the negotiation successfully.
Mediator: The Seven Stage Mediation Approach case study produced by Capital University School of Law presents the mediation example. This is an office dispute between Tom and Elizabeth which exploded. Emotions prevented them from a one on one negotiator so they secured a neutral mediator, successfully.
Case Example: DC Mayor Muriel Bowser (MB) Pictured Maskless at a Wedding Reception.
So, Mayor MB issued an indoor mask requirement in light of the Delta COVID variant much to the dismay of many residents. She issued this mask requirement before other surrounding areas and seemingly without regard to scientific numbers. If she had also ordered a vaccination mandate for city workers, the residential dismay would have been less.
On August 1st, MB officiated an outdoor wedding at the Adams Morgan DC Line Hotel.
Later, a reporter took pictures of MB and guests sitting in conference style (that is, she was not eating or drinking) indoors, without any signs of masking. This was completely contrary to MB’s masking indoors emergency order.
MB’s response? She tried to defend her being maskless by saying she was continuing to eat and drink. The photos do not show such and the controversy continues into the second week.
A Better Crisis Negotiation Response?
Honesty and transparency are the keys. MB would have been better off if she had immediately apologized, maybe stating that she was in a celebratory mood and simply forgot as did her compadres sitting with her. The story most like would have ended within a number of hours.
MB has the reputation of not admitting but defending her actions. She was on all of the national news channels because of her silly order that included “no dancing” at weddings. Instead of admitting that this order went too far, she hopelessly defended it while the nation laughed.
Government officials should anticipate people looking for hypocrisy when they issue controversial orders like wearing masks indoors. Many governmental officials have been caught disobeying their own rules including House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Governor Gavin Newsome. MB was caught traveling to Wilmington to celebrate the Biden/Harris victory when out of state traveling was discouraged. MB also participated in what some may call “super spreaders” when she marched with BLM (Black Lives Matter).
Case Example: DC Based Nellie’s Bar Mayhem, June 16
Nellie’s is DC based neighborhood, diverse bar-sometimes listed as a gay bar. Nellie's opened 14 years ago. Nellie's was named by the owner Doug Schantz after his eccentric and hospitable great grandmother's named Nelly.
During Gay Pride Week, an incident occurred on June 16. Since this was Pride Week, the bar was probably overcrowded. A group arrived, including 22 year-old African-American Keisha Young. Someone in this crowd brought in outside liquor violating the rules of the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). The security team, newly hired for Pride Week, noticed this and accused Young. Young denied this and seemingly mayhem erupted resulting in Young being dragged down the stairs and outside (some say she was dragged by her hair).
Public knowledge of this incident came from two cell phone videos that showed a lot of people yelling and hitting each other.
As a result, Doug Schantz:
- Fired the newly hired security company.
- Offered a public apology to Young.
- Closed down the bar for a week to give his staff de-escalating training.
- About a month later, Schantz hired Ruby Carado to be the manager and director of community engagement.
These acts did not satisfy the protestors who formed a human chain to prevent the re-opening almost a month post June 16. They are demanding:
- A more specific public apology to Young.
- Ownership change to a black “queer” person.
- Other bars hold listening sessions with the LGBTQ+ community since they have felt unsafe at Nellie's and other bars (specifically, gay).
Better Management Crisis Negotiation Response?
Honesty and transparency are vital in crisis negotiation.
The owner could have taken different steps:
- He could have offered both private and personal apologies immediately.
- He could have discerned the facts differentiating them from perspectives and opinions.
- He could have shared the bar’s video which still has not been seen by the masses. ABRA and the DC Attorney General’s Office may have seen them.
- Firing the security company fast may have worked in another circumstance. In this one, maybe he could have taken a bit more time to discern the facts and perspectives from the actual security who were involved. Maybe in their minds, they handled this disruption in the only way possible. Maybe they actually saw her with the outside liquor. Maybe she refused to leave when requested and began backtalking.
- He probably should have been the face of the situation rather than allowing the two cellphone videos to dominate that national and local airwaves for 2 weeks.
- He probably should have hired a crisis manager immediately.
- Post the incident, he had all employees to take a de-escalation training. Because Nellie's is a busy, crowded, diverse bar, this training probably should have been ongoing.
Following the advice above, most bar owners should prepare for the worst. Drinking often involves arguing and fighting. Ground rules of operation and intervention need to be established. Managers and security need to control their emotions and de-escalate the situation. Crisis negotiation takes time: don’t rush it. Finally, bars need to strengthen their relationship with the community and their patrons.
Most negotiations contain similarities. There is a step-by-step process that is most likely to result in settlement or resolution. All negotiators need to plan, anticipate, and yet be flexible to the parties involved and the subject matter at hand. Patience is often the key.
See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.
Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education
The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray
5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.
Getting Your Way Every Day.
MOVIE CLIPS: These are two interesting scenes focusing on Hostage Negotiations. They speak of TRUST and being HONEST-no lies. Hostage Negotiator hangs up twice on the Perpetuator
Ace Negotiator Faces the Naughty hostage take (Hyun Bin and Son Ye Jin.
They Finally Meet for the First and Last Time