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Hot Tips on Negotiating in a Hostage Situation

Curtis M. Johnson

You are at your desk and some work from the week before is facing you. Monday morning is here and you're just coming out of the weekend's "daze". Whether you live in New York City or in Bogotá, whether you work in a 2-person office or work with 500 people, the potential is there for surprises. It takes one angry employee, one angry customer to take control of your environment, your little world for a minute, an hour, or who knows how long. You are for that short time -- or for the long run of that incident -- a Hostage.

Can you prepare men and women with the necessary innovative verbal skills, assessment tools, management skills or even preventative qualities that go hand in hand with handling difficult people or difficult situations? The hard answer is you really do not prepare for these situations. Nevertheless, there are some tips to improve surviving a Hostage situation, be it in a U.S. post office or an MD80 Airliner.

Rule Number One; if you are a Hostage, you cannot negotiate your own survival. A hostage Negotiator trained in that field can assist in the negotiations; but you, the Hostage cannot. So stay calm, talk to the hostage taker if a question is asked of you. Do not offer opinions (he or she may not necessarily agree with your side of an issue), but do look at the hostage taker if they are looking at you with that question (it is "more" difficult to hurt a person looking into their sympathetic eyes).

Rule Number Two; During the "chaotic" stage of the hostage take-over incident, everything will be chaotic. There may be loud noises, throwing things, or banging. This is meant to scare you, bring fear to you or this could be as simple as the Hostage taker just being out of control. Additionally, this is the most dangerous stage. In the beginning take-over stage the potential to be shot, slashed, or attacked has the greatest likelihood of occurring. Do what you are told, as quickly as possible. Do not be the "sore thumb" or the "squeaky wheel" person. Stay "low" and out of the way. Stay quiet and unobvious.

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