The second most dangerous time in a hostage negotiation is the very end, after an agreement has been reached and the subject comes out to fulfill his end of the deal by surrendering. The guy comes out through the doorway. He’s nervous, and the guys in the tactical squad are nervous too. The hostages are nervous, I’m nervous, everybody’s nervous. Somebody sneezes, and all that nervous energy suddenly gets put to very bad use.
The surrender is basically the close of the deal, the time our “customer” signs on the bottom line. The key to getting him or her to sign is to make sure there are no surprises.
Hostage negotiators always work out the surrender terms and the procedures as clearly as possible before concluding the deal. We aim for no surprises at the end. That should be the goal of everyday negotiators as well. What are all the terms—not just the important ones, all the terms. The negotiation is not complete until they are specified.
I hope this comes under the heading of very, very obvious, but let me say it anyway: It helps to put the terms of a complicated deal in writing. Write the agreement down. I’m not talking about a contract, though obviously that’s an important part of many business deals. I mean, simply, write it down. Heck, you put your shopping list on paper, don’t you? Or is that why you’re out of toothpaste and there are twelve quarts of milk in your fridge?
Seeing things on paper or, these days, on a computer helps objectify the issues. The scribe on the negotiating team should always write down the other side’s terms, not just because something important may be forgotten, but because it helps keep the negotiations on an objective level. If the points are something you can see on a piece of paper, you’re less likely to get too emotionally attached to any one of them.
Of course, if your scribe’s handwriting is as bad as mine, you may not be able to decipher them at all. But that’s another story.
One of my friends was recently negotiating to do a job for a contractor. It wasn’t a particularly difficult assignment, and the general parameters of the agreement were known in advance. He agreed with the contractor to do the work for the same fee he had been paid in the past, pending the workout of the language.
And then, after the arduous prospect, the other side suddenly decided that my friend should be paid $100 less than he had on the other job.
I’m not kidding. The contract was for several thousand dollars; it had taken weeks to work out the deal, and in fact the contractor actually needed to have the work done pretty quickly. The contractor had actually intended on negotiating over a smaller sum, but had made a mistake during the preliminary stages of the negotiation. Of course, the contractor didn’t admit that there had been a mistake; he just presented it as a take it or leave it.
Now to be honest, my friend would have settled for less money than the agreed figure during the negotiations because there was slightly less work involved in the job. What angered him was the fact that the change was made at the last minute, after the deal was set. He interpreted the sudden price reduction as a macho game by the contractor.
Weighing everything, my friend decided to go ahead with the contract. But guess what? He was so mad that he relegated the work to one of his assistants, giving it decidedly less of his own attention than he ordinarily would have. The job was done, but to lesser standards than it would have had the last-minute switch not occurred. And a long business relationship ended.
Was a relationship that had worked well and profitably for many years worth $100? Was the fact that the assistant took a few days longer to put up all the drywall—this was a house—and maybe missed in a few places, more important in the big picture than a hundred bucks?
I guess only the person who ended up not buying the house after a second walk-through could say for sure.