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.