The Negotiator Magazine

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NEGOTIATOR/SUBJECT RAPPORT

The rapport that the negotiator wants to establish is a doctor/patient-type relationship, not a friendship. If one has a serious health problem, the patient wants to believe that his or her doctor has the special knowledge, power and skills to assist them with their recovery. Mental health professionals and medical doctors do not ask or encourage their patients to call them by their first name. The patient experiences a level of comfort and confidence in the formal relationship with their doctor. The patient or suicidal subject addresses that professional as "doctor, sergeant or officer" not "Bill, Bob or Mary."

One of the early objectives of negotiations is to establish rapport with the subject. A very experienced, successful negotiator from a large department spoke of a suicidal subject with whom he was working. Early on, the subject sounded depressed but over time the subject sounded better and better. In fact, the subject began laughing and joking with the negotiator. In other words, there was great rapport. The negotiator was feeling good about the progress of the negotiation and was giving a "thumbs up" to his sergeant until he heard the fatal gunshot.

In the author's study, there was excellent negotiator/subject rapport in many of the cases. The tentative explanation is that the suicidal subject and negotiator developed a friendship not rapport. The suicidal person liked the negotiator and related to the negotiator as a friend not as an authority figure who disapproved of the suicidal action.

At the point where the negotiator loses his or her identity as an authority figure and becomes more of a friend to the subject, he or she begins losing ground. A law enforcement officer's authority and disapproval of the suicidal action holds some people back from committing suicide. A negotiator can establish rapport and communicate empathy but still maintain a position of authority much like a doctor does.

Typically, crisis negotiators do not see subject/negotiator rapport established in suicide-by-cop cases. The subject often makes angry gestures and screams at the negotiator up to the end.

PERTURBATION

In the literature, suicidal persons are often described as being in a state of perturbation, that is, they are highly agitated or perturbed. In talking to negotiators who were there when someone committed suicide, the suicidal person was most often calm. These individuals were not agitated at all.

The consistent exception, however, is in suicide-by-cop cases. These individuals, typically, do not calm down nor is any rapport established. Generally, they sound angry and agitated right up to the end. Interestingly, if there are innocent persons with the subject or the subject talks to people on the telephone he will sometimes sound calm while talking to them. If a subject fails to calm down over five or more hours, it would behoove a negotiator to consider the possibility of a suicide-by-cop scenario.

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August 2005