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Surprisingly, Hostage Negotiation Follows Basic Negotiation Precepts

There are unique aspects to hostage negotiations, but generally hostage negotiations follow the basic negotiation precepts. One precept is that negotiations must be honest. To the surprise of many, hostage negotiators insist that honesty is a key to success. Also, fascinating, the success rate of about 94 percent.

Crucial Skills for a Hostage Negotiator

Police Practice and Research lists seven crucial skills of crisis or hostage negotiators:

- Patience

- Active Listening

- Flexibility and Adaptability

- Self-Awareness

- Emotional Stability

- Honesty

- Empathy and Respect.

Most negotiation experts would totally agree with these characteristics whether one is negotiating business, international, family or community cases.

What Are the Basic Hostage Negotiation Techniques?

Much like other negotiations, there are some techniques that are ineffective:

- Asking closed Yes/No questions. These type of questions illicit very little information.

- Talking a lot and especially talking over the hostage-taker.

- Not building a foundation, but immediately trying to influence.

Instead, the FBI Hostage Negotiation Unit has developed a five step approach to persuading the person to see one’s point of view and possibly change theirs.

There are five steps:

1. Active Listening: Listen to their side and make them aware you’re listening.

2. Empathy: You get an understanding of where they’re coming from and how they feel.

3. Rapport: Empathy is what you feel. Rapport is when they feel it back. They start to trust you.

4. Influence: Now that they trust you, you’ve earned the right to work on problem solving with them and recommend a course of action.

5. Behavioral Change: They act. (And maybe come out with their hands up.)

What is Active Listening?

Listening is a fantastic tool and yet research shows that most people are bad at it. Some communication experts say that most people are listening at a low 25 percent effectiveness level. What is the major impediment to listening? Talking.

Active listening goes beyond mere listening or hearing. Active listening is engagement.

- Asking open ended questions. Start the question with “What.” What happened? What are the reasons? What occurred? These questions are effective because they illicit information. Open questions convey that the asker is interested in what the other person has to say. Open-ended questioning is a building block for “liking” and maybe even trust.

- Paraphrasing: This skill is stating back what the person has just said. This demonstrates that one has actually listened and understood. If a person continually repeats a feeling or a position, often they are repeating because they do not feel that they have been heard. Paraphrasing usually solves this.

- Minimal Encouragers: This includes nodding of the head or sounds like “umm.” These demonstrate again that you are engaged and listening.

- Mirroring: Mirroring, aka mimicking, voice tone, words, and body language conveys compatibility. It might help demonstrate that one is with them and is engaged.

- Emotional Labeling: Emotions are clearly a part of almost any negotiation. Do not hide from them. Instead, acknowledge them and manage them.

- So, you are angry.

- You feel you have been treated unfairly.

- You feel ignored.

There is no need to evaluate these feelings; just label them so the speaker feels heard.

Hostage Negotiation Training

Training is vital for hostage negotiators as with any negotiator. They must practice to keep current. They must be open to new and ongoing information. They must “be in the moment” of the negotiations and many times, suspend their personal feelings. Negotiators need to know:

- Theory of negotiation.

- Criminal psychology.

- Clinical criminology.

- Simulations and role plays help.

The Texas Association of Hostage Negotiators offers a 40-hour course which covers:

- History of negotiations - Characteristics of a negotiable incident and stages of an Incident - Active listening and communication skills - Handling demands, effects of time - Recognizing psychological, mental, and emotional disorders, how to recognize them and deal with them, including Stockholm Syndrome - The effects of stress, stages of stress, and stress in the hostage situation - Team structure - Intelligence coordination - A full day of realistic scenarios and scenario training

Uniqueness of Hostage Negotiation

Hostage negotiation can be explosive unlike other negotiations.

- There is often residual trauma.

- Hostage negotiation may be viewed as a three legged stool: command center, tactical team, and hostage negotiators/team.

- The settings can distinguish themselves. The setting might be a correctional facility, schools, police stations, office buildings, malls, shopping centers, banks, individual store, etc. Sometimes, during training, holding the simulations on site might be helpful..

Tactical Teams Command Center 3 legged stool.

There are times when the hostage taker is one of the professionals who is familiar with hostage negotiation tactics. This is a double challenge then for the hostage negotiator. The movie The Negotiator with Actor Samuel L. Jackson gives an example. Jackson plays the role of the police officer who is being framed by the police department. He takes hostages from the police department. Jackson reminds the hostage negotiator and the hostages that he is aware of all of their techniques including reading body language.


Generally, hostage negotiation is similar to other forms of negotiation. The negotiator must be honest, have patience, etc. At the same time, there are unique aspects of hostage negotiation. One, is the internal negotiations with the Command Center and Tactical Teams who may not have the patience needed in hostage situation.

Hostage negotiation goals emphasize the preservation of life, the containment of the hostage-taker, and protecting property.

Amazingly, the success rate is 94 percent.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu. Clicking on any book will lead one to the discounted Amazon site.

Hostage Negotiation: Current Strategies and Issues.

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

Maximum Influence, The 12 Universal Laws of Power Persuasion, Kurt W. Mortensen.

Say What You Mean. Get What You Want, A Businessperson’s Guide to Direct Communication, Judith C. Tingley, Ph.D.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie. “The first-and still the best book of its kind-to lead you to success.”

How to Negotiate Like a Child-Unleash the Little Monster Within to Get Everything You Want, Bill Adler, Jr., ISBN 0-8144-7294-X

Making Your Case-The Art of Persuading Judges, Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner,, ISBN 978-0-314-18471-9

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