The Negotiator Magazine

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            When exchanging information, the hostage negotiator always attempts to tell the truth, but if they have to lie – they do so in a manner to avoid getting caught.  They can avoid getting caught by making sure the media does not reveal information that would contradict what they are saying.  It will destroy their credibility completely if they do.  Moreover, touchy topics like religion should be avoided – because nobody wins in those discussions. 
            It is a general rule that the hostage taker is not allowed to negotiate or “shop” for a different negotiator.  Therefore, the primary negotiator who is assigned to the scene is the negotiator that will make the connection with the hostage taker.  Oftentimes, the hostage taker is too afraid and angry to even contact the negotiator.  Since there is not a phone number available for people (unless they call the 911 dispatcher), the hostage negotiator may have to make the first contact.  Upon making the first contact, the negotiator attempts to identify the hostage taker and his needs, and determine a path towards resolution. 
            Once communication is established, the negotiator should ask open-ended questions.  However, it is appropriate to also ask direct questions.  For example, a hostage negotiator will address an issue head on by asking a pointed question, such as, “Are you going to kill yourself?”  Historically, such questions were avoided, but they are no longer negatively looked upon.  The hostage taker is often asked to talk about what they feel, and how they will feel if they carry out particular actions.  They must know that life will go on – even if they do hurt themselves.  Hopefully, with the passage of time and with a continuous dialogue – the anxiety and stress that the hostage taker feels will ultimately lessen. 
            Throughout the process of exchanging information, a hostage negotiator must also consider external factors and their effect on the situation.  Many factors exist outside of the negotiation, such as - the changes that occur from daylight to dark, schools being let out, and the media reporting the incident.
            ii. Legal Negotiation
            The “information exchange is the engine that drives negotiation development.”   Just as the hostage negotiator must understand why the perpetrator took hostages to begin with, the lawyer negotiator must determine the underlying interests of the parties.  “The basic problem in a negotiation lies not in conflicting positions, but in the conflict between each side's needs, desires, concerns and fears…. Such desires and concerns are interests. Interests motivate people: they are the silent movers behind the hubbub of positions. Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide.”  
            The more information the negotiator obtains, the better suited the negotiator is to (1) Design the problem, (2) Design the process for solving the problem, and (3) Design the solution to the problem by using the determined process.   It is important to remember that the negotiator is looking to exchange information – not only is it necessary to hear and understand the other party, but to also be understood and to develop one’s own rapport.  The message of a negotiator is conveyed on many different levels – through their vocal intonation, facial expression, body language, and attitude – and they should not be ignored.

            Therefore, the legal negotiator should also ask open-ended questions, and look to the external factors that may impact the negotiation.  Emotions are always a factor which impact the perception people have of the issue, process, and potential solutions.   A successful information exchange process will accomplish “the development of rapport between the individual negotiators, the surfacing of underlying interests, issues, and perceptions that concern the parties and the initial testing of the parties expectations based on the parties’ relative leverage.”   As a result, all negotiators should be careful to not ignore this crucial step.


Michael E Holmes, Processes and Patterns in Hostage Negotiations, Dynamic Processes of Crisis Negotiation:  Theory, Research, and Practice 82 (Randall G. Rogan, Mitchell R. Hammer, and Clinton R. Van Zandt, Praeger 1997).

Rogers Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In 42 (Bruce Patton ed., Penguin Books 1983).

John W. Cooley, Creative Problem Solving for Negotiators and Mediators.  18 DCBABR 16 (December 2005).

Erin Ryan, The Discourse Beneath:  Emotional Epistemology in Legal Deliberation and Negotiation, 10 HVNLR 231, 232. (Spring 2005). 

Shell, supra at 139.

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May 2007