The Negotiator Magazine

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Many observers would say that an officer or deputy who had the ability or skills to calm a citizen in short order and who can readily establish rapport would be a good negotiator. A surprising outcome of this study was that good negotiators were "losing" suicidal persons. Were these good crisis negotiators establishing a "friendship" rather than rapport and thereby inadvertently lowering the barrier to suicide?

If those who commit suicide are typically calm, do negotiators want to calm people down? It is suspected that negotiator still wants a calm subject. However, we do not know the difference between someone who is calm and comes out seeking help and someone who is calm and goes on to commit suicide. So, merely calming a suicidal person is not nearly enough.


Many years ago, a prominent psychiatrist taught in negotiation classes that depressed, suicidal persons would be honest and straightforward with the negotiator. This idea was passed along in FBI seminars for years. Now, this negotiator has his own opinion based upon personal experience, the opinion of other experienced negotiators and the current study. Many negotiators have seen depressed, suicidal persons tell outrageous lies on many occasions. This negotiator's advice is to believe nothing a suicidal person says including a surrender statement. The idea of having a "contract" with the negotiator about not committing suicide while off the telephone may be worth trying but do not count on it.


The suicide literature reports that people who commit suicide are involved with drugs, alcohol, and use of drugs and alcohol is a high risk factor. Actually, only a small number of the persons in the current study were doing drugs or alcohol when they committed suicide. In the current study, the people who committed suicide were generally sober. Many negotiators have observed that most people with whom they negotiate are drunk or under the influence of drugs. Strangely, perhaps being sober is a high-risk indicator in suicide cases! People kill themselves while sober in negotiated incidents.

In the current study, only four of the 28 who committed suicide were using drugs or alcohol. In fact, two of the four were drinking in a "celebratory" manner and were not considered inebriated by the negotiation team.


Over the years, the writer's position on measuring negotiation progress in suicide cases has evolved. Early on, he had a list of indicators of negotiation progress. Then, he changed his seminar note-taking guide to read "possible" indicators of negotiation progress. Now, he is not sure that there are any guaranteed indicators of negotiation progress. The writer would not even bet on the words, "I'm coming out," because persons have committed suicide after telling the negotiator of their intention to surrender.

Give up on the idea of measuring progress in a negotiated incident involving a suicidal individual. At this stage of the negotiation art, it cannot be done accurately.

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August 2005