The Negotiator Magazine

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HOSTAGE NEGOTIATION:  THE DIVERGENCE FROM OTHER “HIGH STAKES” NEGOTIATIONS AND THE IMPACT OF MEASURING EFFECTIVENESS

by Ashley Grovert

I.  Introduction
            We negotiate throughout our entire lives – with our spouse, at work, when we buy or sell something – negotiation occurs everywhere.  Therefore, being aware of the various stages that occur in the negotiation process is useful to anyone who wants to effectively represent their interests and understand the desires of others.  Just as a runner should be aware of all the twists and turns leading to the finish line in their race, a skilled negotiator should be aware of the means and methods to accomplish their goal. 

            Likewise, for people negotiating in high stress or crisis situations, an understanding of the phases of negotiation is essential. It is essential because the acute consequences or ramifications increase the need to diverge from traditional negotiation methods and processes.  In crisis negotiations it is simply not acceptable to “walk away from the table” or to not reach an agreement – such situations could result in injury or the loss of lives.  Moreover, in situations, such as hostage negotiations, there is a finite beginning and ending.  The parties are able to effectively measure the gains and losses in a way that is typically impossible in regular negotiations.
            In this article, I will discuss two divergent types of “high stakes” negotiations – the negotiations done in anticipation of litigation and the negotiations done by a hostage negotiator in a crisis situation.  Both types of negotiations can be analyzed through the four step process articulated by Richard Shell - Preparation, Information Exchange, Proposing and Concession Making, and Commitment.  However, while they share the initial three steps, they are analytically distinct in the fourth step, commitment, because of the desired (or necessary) outcomes. 
            First, I will discuss the similarities and differences in hostage and legal negotiation.  Next, I will explain how the difference between legal negotiations and hostage negotiations is a result of the inability to measure the effectiveness of legal negotiations compared to the ability to measure the success of a hostage negotiation.  Since the outcome of a hostage negotiation is relatively clear and absolute – the negotiator inevitably works under more stress and within different boundaries than a legal negotiator, as evidenced through their methods of negotiation. 

II. The Four Phases of Negotiation
Negotiation is a dance that moves through four stages or steps.”  G. Richard Shell
G. Richard Shell describes the “four step dance” of negotiation.   The process that repeatedly appears in negotiations is: 

(1) Preparation;
(2) Information Exchange;
(3) Proposing and Concession Making; and
(4) Commitment.
The sequence does not necessarily remain constant – the parties may venture back and forth before a resolution is reached.   Moreover, the steps exist beneath the surface – there is no formal indication that the parties are currently acting in one (or more) of them.   Thus, Shell explains “skilled negotiators everywhere are a bit like good dancers.  They are alert to their counterpart’s pace, striving to stay ‘in step’ as the process moves along.”


G. Richard Shell, Bargaining for Advantage:  Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People 119 (Penguin Books 2006) (1999). 

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May 2007