4 Tactics You Can Learn from Hostage Negotiations

We encounter negotiations in our lives every day, from deciding what we are going to have for dinner to working to close a huge business deal.  In some cases the stakes seem pretty low while in others, such as the business example, the outcome can mean the difference between getting a promotion or not.  For FBI professionals working with a hostage situation, the results of the negotiation can be life or death.  While our everyday lives do not typically involve such high risk situations, it is important to look at some of the FBI’s negotiation strategies and figure out how to translate them into the business world.  Below are four tactics used in hostage negotiations that can be also be applied to your professional career.

  1. Be an Active Listener

Perhaps the most critical technique in hostage negotiations is active listening.  This means you must actually listen to what the other side is saying and make them aware that you are listening.  You need to acknowledge their feelings and try to understand where they are coming from.  When you listen intently and demonstrate empathy for the other side, they will begin to trust you.  This same principle can be applied to business negotiations.  If during a business negotiation your sole objective is to make your argument, you are not listening to your counterpart and they will not be as inclined to want to work with you.  Conversely, when you take a genuine interest in the other’s feelings, they will build trust with you and you will have the ability to influence them.

  1. Use the Mirrroring Technique

In any negotiation it is crucial to get as much information from the other side as possible.  By mirroring your counterpart and repeating 3 to 5 keywords in their last sentence, people are forced to naturally repeat themselves in a different way that gives even more information in an attempt to clarify their points.  For example, if your counterpart mentions “I am tired of paying too much for this service,” you simply reply with a statement like “paying too much, huh.” While it might feel awkward, it causes the other person to explain their point again from a different angle.  When you gather more information about your counterparts needs, you are able to get a better understanding of their desired outcomes.  The best part about this technique is that it works every time and no one even knows you are doing it!

  1. Ask Open-Ended Questions

The idea in a negotiation is to gather information so you do not want yes/no answers.  You want the other person to open up about their motivations so you always want to lead with open-ended questions.  The simple questions “how?” and “what?” are two of the most powerful interrogatives.  They encourage the other side to give more information and reveal their true motive.  For example, if someone demands $1 million in ransom money, the negotiator’s response might be, “tell me how I am supposed to do that.”  This  forces the other the other side to actually put themselves in your shoes and they will actually have to be on your side for a moment. Likewise, in business, asking a question such as “what is it about this 30-day window that works for you?” will reveal the true intentions of your counterpart.

  1. Never Lie to Anyone

There are long-term effects associated with lying.  In a hostage negotiation, if word gets out that the FBI lies other kidnappers will not even attempt a compromise.   In a business situation, making empty promises can seem like an easy way to get what you want right then.  However, if word gets out that you lied you have lost all accountability for future negotiations.  The best rule of thumb is not to lie in the first place.

While most people will never deal with negotiating a deal that could result in life or death, we can all learn from the negotiation tactics of the FBI.  These amazingly effective negotiation strategies can help you become a better negotiator in your professional career.