By Karen Smith, MBA, PMP

Never Fear! [Your Name Here] to the Rescue!

Chances are high that at least one point in your career or personal life, you’ve had to negotiate with someone who was holding something you value as “hostage.” This may have included a particular service, payment, or resource, or quite possibly the TV remote, your favorite TV show, or having to tell your 5-year old to put down the phone extension. Chances are even higher that you probably dreaded the whole process of getting what you wanted due to fear of failure, fear of confrontation, embarrassment, or lack of know-how and experience.

Well never fear! You are here to handle the situation (yes – you read that correctly), and handle it like a pro – a “hostage” pro.

The Behavioral Change Stairway Model was developed by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit, and shows the five steps to getting someone else to see your point of view and change what they’re doing. This model closely resembles the neuro-linguistic programming techniques I discussed in this white paper, as the end goal in both is to get to your desired outcome.

The Stairway model is not something that only works with the most barricaded criminals brandishing weapons; it applies to most forms of disagreement. While the original interview by Eric Barker of the FBI’s former lead international kidnapping negotiator Chris Voss can be found here, this is how you can apply the lessons as a project manager, a front line/customer service employee, or executive.

The five steps include:

1. Active Listening: Listen to the “other” side; make them aware you’re listening. (CRITICAL: MOST PEOPLE COULD USE IMPROVEMENT IN THIS AREA!) If you are doing all the talking, the other party will be “talking” to themselves inside their head. By actively listening first thing, you will be able to quiet the planning going on inside the subject’s head. As well, by putting the clues disclosed to good use, you can more easily progress through Steps 2 and 3 below.

  • While listening, refrain from interrupting, disagreeing or evaluating.
  • Acknowledge you are listening with a nod or with comments such as “yes,” “uh-huh,” or “I see.” These responses will encourage the other party to continue participating in the discussion.

Note: Women tend to nod more than men and, many times, this may be misunderstood as a “yes – I agree” statement. This particular nod is only meant for acknowledging that you are actively listening.

  • See the subject as having intrinsic value apart from his/her behavior, and you see his/her behavior as having an understandable story behind it. This will allow you to be able to remain in a helping position. Sure, there may be some types of people that we would not be able to maintain an unconditional positive regard for; however, for purposes of getting to your desired state, you’ll need to stay focused.
  • Paraphrase your understanding of what the subject just said, from their frame of reference. If he/she says, “I’m overwhelmed,” you might just use the last word or two to say something like, “Feel overwhelmed, huh?” This shows you are actively listening, and also gets the subject to possibly open up more.Similar responses may be made by social workers and counselors, who are trained to reply with responses that convey empathy, such as “sounds like there’s a lot going on; it must make balancing priorities tough.” This statement recognizes the feelings without making a judgment. Social workers and counselors separate themselves from their client so they become part of the solution versus part of the problem. The challenge here is to keep from reacting judgmentally – and keeping things unconditionally positive – and losing one’s effectiveness. Terms like inconsiderate, imprudent, unwise, irresponsible, right or wrong, and good or bad are judgmental terms.
  • Be inquisitive and ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention, to move the discussion forward.
  • Ask non-judgmental, open-ended questions. One of my first jobs was as an American Airlines reservations agent where we were coached to always ask open-ended questions such as, “Would you like first class or coach?” “Would you prefer an aisle or a window seat?” “What time of day would you like to depart?” If we asked a yes/no question, and the answer was “no,” many times it’s difficult to get back into the swing of a conversation. Open-ended and questions that offer a choice give the act of deciding to the other party. They’ve now become part of the conversation.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I will discuss how to find the right solutions by knowing what questions to ask.

2. Empathy: You get a true understanding of where they’re coming from and how they feel. In other words, “walk a mile” in their shoes, or at least in their mind.

3. Rapport: Empathy is what you feel. Rapport is when they feel it back and start to trust you. Learning how to effectively build and sustain rapport with others is not genetic where only a few people can attain it. It can be learned!

4. Influence: Now that they trust you, you’ve earned the right to work on problem solving with them and recommend a course of action. (DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP – OR ANY OTHERS FOR THAT MATTER!)

5. Behavioral Change: They act. Possibly you’ll see someone exit with their hands up or maybe even a ratified contract.

Note that all this implies that you and your subject are unemotional and completely rational at that time … which, by the way, will never be the case. Actively pausing can be used to emphasize a point, to encourage someone to keep talking, or to defuse things when people get emotional. Holding a one-sided argument is near to impossible to sustain. Eventually the subject will return to meaningful dialog, moving the negotiation process forward. Try this technique out. You may be surprised at the results of people getting back to the point after talking “around” the point.

Mirroring is an effective tool to use and helps build rapport. Mirroring is when you use similar language or adopt the same physical posture and mannerisms as your subject. Use caution when employing this, as you want it to appear subtle and not like you are mocking them.

Digest these steps – don’t skip any – and then put on your cape to get to your desired outcome.

What successful heroics have you seen or experienced during negotiations with those who hold your end goals hostage?

Blog_Bottom_Divider_BFull Course:  Become a Great Negotiator! (2 days)

Click here for our full list of available courses!