The Negotiator Magazine

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VI. Step Three - Proposing and Concession Making
            i. Hostage Negotiation
            The hostage negotiator must take control of the situation, and must always be in control of the proposals and concessions.  Yet, hostage takers are usually obsessed with control.  They want to be in control, and therefore, it should appear that they are.  Depending on the person, the negotiator must modify the level of assertiveness and empathy that should be exhibited.  If someone is depressed, the response of the negotiator will likely be more assertive.  If the person is anxious and angry – the negotiator should be calm and understanding. 
Regardless of what the hostage taker believes - the negotiator should be in charge of the “playing field” as a whole.  The negotiator has the ability to control everything that goes in and out of the location – food, electricity, and so on.  Therefore, the hostage taker should be just as uncomfortable as everyone outside attempting to assuage the situation – if it is freezing outside, then cut the heat.  If necessary, turn off the lights by shutting off the electricity.  As a sign of good faith, food and water might be sent inside (for the hostage taker and hostages).  The negotiator’s goal is to bring down the comfort zone, and make the hostage taker tired.  Basically, without imposing deadlines – the hostage negotiator is able to implicitly let it be known that this cannot go on forever.
            The hostage taker may want to speak to a family member, but that is allowed in a very limited and controlled way.  At times, the motive of the hostage taker is to get the family member on the phone to show them ‘this is what you have done’ or ‘look how much pain I am in.’  Accordingly, the negotiator will not allow a hostage taker to talk directly with their family member – since there are too many potential instigators and unknown scenarios.  As a result, the family member may be allowed to record a message that will be played to the hostage taker.  This way the negotiator will know exactly what is being said, and the hostage taker will not be able to say anything back to the family member.
For the hostage taker, the “Best Alternatives” are limited to four options:  (1) Escape, (2) Surrender, (3) Suicide, and (4) Homicide.   While most people would not consider death a sensible alternative – the hostage taker may believe that ranks higher than any of their other options.  When proposing and making concessions the hostage negotiator must recognize that creativity is necessary – even though the boundaries and goals of the negotiation are predetermined.
            The hostage negotiator has to know when to say “No” - some concessions are nonnegotiable.  The hostage taker will never be given any weapons or drugs.  There is too much uncertainty with those items.  Moreover, the hostage negotiator will usually not provide any means of providing mobility because that changes the rules too much.  If the hostage taker is already mobile, the negotiator will try to make them immobile.
            An important point to remember is that the negotiator, even though saying “No”, should still stay away from “No” phrases.  It should seem as if the hostage taker is making the decisions, not the negotiator.  Ultimately, the hostage taker must believe that there is only one option – to end the dispute peacefully.  The negotiator may have to slowly arrive at that point, but that is essentially the only suitable solution for hostage negotiators – regardless of the opening proposals or subsequent concessions.


Frank Bolz, Jr., Kenneth J. Dudonis and David P. Schulz, The Counterterrorism Handbook:  Tactics, Procedures, and Techniques 176 (CRC Press 2002). 

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May 2007