If you’ve ever had to negotiate better work conditions or hold your own in the boardroom, you’ll know just how heated negotiations can get — and if this is new to you, allow me to set the scene.
Alice and Bob are holed up in a meeting room, participating in a relentless dance of back and forth, driven by the tone of individual wishes and desires. They both have a goal in mind and they’re motivated to reach it. The problem is that neither are willing to back down, nor do they know when to walk away.
You might think it’s crazy that hostage negotiation techniques are worlds away from those used in business, but in actual fact, there’s plenty you can learn from those with experience in crisis negotiations.
“By far the most common mistake in these situations is to jump straight in at step 4 — trying to tell people what to do — and it doesn’t work,” says Simon Horton, a hostage negotiator specialist.
“You have to go through steps 1, 2, and 3 first. And if you do go through those initial steps and step 4 still doesn’t work, it’s because you haven’t done the first steps well enough. So you have to go back to the beginning and start again,” he adds.
The FBI’s crisis negotiation tactics
According to Horton, crisis negotiators typically adhere to a standard framework known as the Behavioral Change Stairway, developed by the FBI.
In simplistic terms, this negotiating framework is broken down into five easy-to-follow steps:
- Step 1: Listen, listen, and then listen some more — Ask a lot of questions, both open and closed questions, and prove you are listening by playing back your understanding. Human beings have a deep need to be heard and if you can show that you’ve fully heard them, you’ve gone half the distance to persuading them.
- Step 2: Show empathy — Demonstrate to the other person that you’ve not only heard them but you also understand them. Acknowledge their experience, their emotions, and them as a person.
- Step 3: Then build rapport — Building a relationship with the other person is crucial and it’s important to in-group, make them feel like “one of us,” as opposed to “one of them.” If you’re in-group, they’ll be easier to persuade.
- Step 4: You need to put your own message across while you’re negotiating so that you get your desired outcome.
- Step 5: If you’ve followed all the aforementioned steps correctly, you should now see a behavioural change, i.e. your desired outcome.
“It is a deceptively simple approach but, when done properly, exceedingly powerful,” Horton notes.
How to act if things are seemingly going wrong
Negotiating is a skill and it’s important to be engaged throughout the whole process — not matter how tedious it may be.
Having your end-goal in mind is also crucial. “If you have your outcome clearly in mind, it should be evident whether you’re achieving it or not. If not, you can always ask directly — and this will gauge whether you are winning or what you need to do to make sure you do win,” Horton adds.
Having said this, Horton also points out that winning is not a zero-sum game.
“It is not about winning over the other person, so they lose. Your win is only likely to remain a win in the long-term if the other side wins too,” he explains.
With this in mind, here are few other things you can keep in mind should the negotiation fail to go your way.
If things get heated, take a break or schedule a session for another date. This way, you’ll have time to cool down and you can resume negotiations and focus on a more constructive approach.
Try and be cooperative and competitive throughout the entire negotiation process. You need to strike a balance between showing your goodwill and flexibility, as well as your resolve.
Be receptive but also hold your ground, if you appear weak the other side will likely use this to their advantage.
Negotiating isn’t by any means easy, but it’s certainly not impossible.
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