The Negotiator Magazine

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The results of the author's study seem to contradict several points seen in the literature and the following explanations are offered to explain this difference:


Historically in the United States, hostage negotiators have not indicated their rank to a hostage taker. The idea was that if a negotiator told a hostage taker his or her rank the hostage taker might think that the negotiator had the power to fulfill the hostage taker's demands. However, in working suicide situations, crisis negotiators want the subject to know that he or she has the power to help the suicidal individual.

Commonly, suicidal subjects feel that no one can help them and there is no hope that their psychological pain will ever cease. Convincing the subject that the negotiator has the rank, power and authority to help and thereby introduce hope is a major negotiation objective.

When working with a suicidal individual the negotiator should use rank as part of his or her introduction and continue to indicate rank throughout the negotiation. For example, when re-contacting a suicidal subject the negotiator should say, "Mr. Smith, this is Officer Jones again."

Negotiators from one major police department said, "When asked about our rank, we always tell subjects that we are sergeants regardless of our true rank." These very successful negotiators are, in effect, saying, "I am a sergeant and I have the power to help you."

When working with a suicidal individual, the negotiator's task is to convince the subject that the negotiator has the power or has access to the power to be of some help. In a suicide situation, the negotiator needs to be perceived as powerful. In a hostage situation, he or she does not want to be viewed as powerful or the decision-maker.

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August 2005