I’m not a mathematician so don’t get on my case, but I have a kind of a mathematical theory that involves numbers and percentages that I call “Concept 51.” This is the goal all negotiators strive to achieve when they’re dealing with a hostage: trust.
I think of trust as a scale that runs from zero to 100. Zero is mistrust, no trust, the position where you would put the marker if you didn’t believe a word someone said, even if they were looking at a calendar and telling you the day. In hostage negotiations, the police are starting their negotiations with a hostage taker from a position of mistrust. Zero. Null. Nada.
Let’s face it, the people we deal with have not had too many good experiences with the police. I cannot remember the last time I invited a hostage taker to Thanksgiving dinner. We have to take that situation of no trust and move it up the scale pretty fast. We’re not aiming at 100; that’s unrealistic. We want to get to a point on the scale where trust is greater than mistrust: 51 percent.
Sometimes we can calm a subject down pretty fast and build trust that way. We lay out a solution, a way out with dignity—not there yet, but we’re moving. Maybe we’re at 35 percent. The subject asks me a question and I answer truthfully; we go for a bit, we get to 45 percent. I start working on ensuring the subject that he will not be hurt when he comes out. He states that he believes me and wants to come out but has to think about it.
We’ve reached 50 percent.
Getting that last little bit of trust in this situation, the last climb, may be the hardest part. Now, we don’t have to go very far—just 1 percent. But like a baseball team that’s struggled to get over .500, the big gains have all been achieved; from here on out we’re looking for small, incremental things to build trust.
I think it helps as the rapport builds in an everyday negotiation to remember that it’s tough work getting from 50 to 51. Rapport is critical—but it’s not the end of the deal.