Commander Sets the Goal

Commander Sets the Goal

But the commander’s role is not just reviewing the negotiations after the framework of the deal is worked out. On the contrary. The commander has to set the goal for the negotiation before the negotiation begins. If I want to buy a new car, for example, I know before going into the showroom how much I’m willing to pay. The “boss” has already authorized intelligence gathering, processed the information, and set a reasonable goal before handing that goal over to the negotiator.

It works the same way in hostage negotiations. The commander often makes the important decisions in a negotiation beforehand. At a minimum, he or she lays out the parameters for the negotiations and a possible deal.

Let’s say I’m talking someone down from a bridge, for example. Well, the bosses make it pretty obvious what they want before I climb the million-foot ladder to the top to start working: Get the person down without him or her getting hurt. So when I’m about to close the deal with the jumper by getting him or her to step down, I’m not going to say “Hold it, let me climb back down the ladder and make sure it’s okay for you to give yourself up peacefully.”

We got after covered, we got before covered, that just leaves us the middle, right? So what’s the commander doing during negotiations?

He or she is making sure the other members of the team are functioning together. The negotiator has to keep receiving relevant intelligence as he negotiates. For example, if the earth has suddenly shifted so the jumper will only fall two feet if he lets go of the window, the negotiator has to know about it. And ditto if the manufacturer is now offering a $10,000 rebate on the chariot du jour.

Repeat after me: “The negotiator is not the decision maker. The negotiator is not the decision maker. The negotiator is not . . .”

Getting It Down

Probably the most overlooked job on a negotiating team is the scribe’s. Let’s face it, the negotiator and the boss get all the glory; the scribe’s just a dude with a pen. But the scribe’s role is nearly as important as the others’, and in “real” life negotiations provides an important record to check the final agreement against.

A hostage situation can go on for several hours or even days; a few have lasted weeks or more. Negotiators spend a lot of that time talking, and even more listening. Even the best listener is going to forget what someone said ten hours before. A scribe acts like a combination secretary and historian, keeping track of anything significant.

A one-man negotiator can keep track of developments by taking notes as things proceed. Too often, though, the notes are overlooked in the heat of battle. Just as a hostage negotiating team must plan to make use of all its members, an individual must build in time to review his or her notes along the way.

A friend of mine recently completed a long series of negotiations for a contract to purchase property. The negotiations, which involved a lawyer type as well as my buddy, stretched over a period of weeks. They reached some broad agreements quickly, but with the legal beagle involved, there was some rather complicated work on contract provisions. Part of the negotiating was done by e-mail, which, along with various notes, provided a good record of what transpired.

Except that—you guessed it—the lawyer neglected to review all the e-mails and ended with a deal memo that skipped a critical point. Luckily, he had copied my friend on the e-mails. In his role as commander of the team, my buddy gave the negotiator a hot blast where it would do the most good, and the lawyer went back to work.

Had there been no record, it’s very possible they would have missed the point entirely, resulting in a great disadvantage to the buyers of the property. At best, they might have caught it at a later stage and had to reopen the negotiations. That might have cost several weeks of further delay as the point was bantered back and forth.