In hostage negotiation, the bad guy’s weapon is usually pretty obvious—he’s got a gun, or a bomb, or some sort of weapon that he exploits as he presents his demands. The negotiator has to arm himself as well, not with a physical weapon—that’s the ninja’s job—but with intelligence about the situation and the person he’s negotiating with. He goes into the negotiation with a clear goal: Get the people involved out alive. He also has a simple guideline that applies to every hostage situation, though how it plays out can vary: Don’t make the situation worse. Before negotiations begin, the responding police agencies and the other members of the negotiating team take three key steps that will help the negotiator shape what happens:
Conduct initial intelligence. How many bad guys are there? How many people are in the bank with them? What are the exits in and out? How’d they get here? (That usually tells you how they hope to leave.) All of this information is provided to the negotiator when he arrives so he knows the situation before he starts talking.
For negotiations involving purchases, initial intelligence is the most important step.
The commander decides the specific goal, and ultimately decides what is negotiable and what’s not. Getting the good guys out alive is the goal of every hostage negotiation. But that goal is counterbalanced by other things, most obviously the need not to endanger other people. So even that very obvious goal has to be adjusted and amended. It is not an absolute rule in hostage situations that the ninjas will go in if the bad guys start shooting. Granted, Plan B is often put into effect. But the department regulations never tie the commander’s hands; every situation is different.
For everyday negotiations, deciding what you’re willing to compromise on can be the most difficult part of the process. Ideally it’s done before the negotiation, but the process of negotiations may bring you back to this step again and again. That’s another reason it’s important for the negotiator and commander to be separated.
Set your negotiating parameters: Know your “out” and your “push.” Once the decision has been made on a goal and the parameters of a possible deal, the negotiator does his own planning, coming up with a basic road map on how to meet the goal. The “out” is the alternative, the Plan B, the ninjas in the hallway. If this deal doesn’t happen, what does?
The “push” is simply the approach the negotiator is planning to take, the way he adapts his personal style to the negotiation. How hard is he going to push? Which buttons? This can’t be dictated, since it’s a matter of personal style. Someone who is not comfortable with direct physical confrontation may still be a decent negotiator if she can take that into account as she conducts the negotiation. The phone is a great equalizer—someone who’s six-eight sounds pretty much the way someone who’s five-two does. Being resolute about goals and positions is important; shouting and screaming about them is not. As a matter of fact, it’s almost always counterproductive.