Building Trust in Volatile Situations

David Horsager Headshot

The recent "Siege in Sydney" provided me with the chance to consider how the Trust Edge illustrates a workable approach even in the most volatile, life-threatening and unpredictable situations. Police and military forces around the world have developed specific protocols for obtaining the safe release of hostages in an increasingly dangerous world. These protocols were born out of the aftermath of the 1972 Olympic hostage crisis in Munich, which tragically ended with the deaths of 9 hostages and one police officer. Wishing to get better results when similar incidents happened in the future, teams of professional negotiators, law enforcement and military personnel have developed a better way of managing these terrible situations...similar in many ways to the Trust Edge.

David then talks about the C's

  • Compassion
  • Connection & Connectivity
  • Commitment
  • Conclusion
I encourage you to read the full article [HERE]. 
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New NYPD Training: Conflict Resolution, Crisis Communication & "Smart Policing"

Have a look everyone, especially "Day 2":

New NYPD 3-Day Training For Officers Promotes "Smart Policing"

Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton gave details on the NYPD's new three-day training that all officers will attend.

The three day training will cover different topics ranging from using discretion, effective communication techniques to de-escalate situations, and tactical skills.

Approximately 20 thousand patrol officers will be trained first and then the remaining members of the Department will receive the training. The NYPD members being trained includes police officers as well as supervisors and police executives. Officers from the same commands will be training together to help them work as a team while performing patrol in the communities they serve.
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Creating Spaces for Effective CVE Approaches

Have a look at the following.  It reminds me firstly of Bernie Mayer's Beyond Neutrality- if we as conflict resolution professionals are seeking to make an impact in the world, perhaps we have to move beyond the neutral role of mediators (and other neutral roles).

CVE (countering violent extremism) is an important part of promoting safety and engages in conflict resolution by being proactive.  Looking at this from a conflict resolution practitioner's lens, I'm an sure many readers will also see the great opportunities that can arise by applying our skills to this important effort.


Unlike other counterterrorism strategies, countering violent extremism (CVE) focuses on preventing individuals from being recruited into or joining violent extremist groups.
CVE is a complex endeavor, largely because the reasons individuals become involved in extremist violence are in themselves complex and the dynamics are unique to each conflict. Using Kenya as an example, and drawing on observations from a recent visit, the author explores how promoting a more nuanced understanding of radicalization can help reach those who are at risk of being pushed and pulled into extremist violence.

See a summary and read the full report [HERE]. 

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Crisis Negotiation Techniques in Terrorist Incidents: It’s Been 10 Years Since Beslan- What Have We Learned?

With the Society for Terrorism Research (STR) 8th Annual International Conference fast approaching, STR, partnered with the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies (CTSS), is launching a series of guest blog posts, written by those who will be presenting their research at STR14. In the sixth installment of this series Detective Jeff Thompson(@nonverbalPhD) discusses his work on the lessons learnt from the Beslan School Siege. Detective Jeff Thompson is the 2013/2014 recipient of the New York City Police Department Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly Scholarship and attended Columbia University as Research Scholar.  His research topic was crisis and hostage negotiation as well as terrorism related incidents [This article does not reflect the opinion of any group or organization that he is employed by or a member of]. 

Ten years ago terrorists in Beslan, a town in North Ossetia Russia, seized a school full of children, in what is still one of the deadliest terrorist incidents to have occurred.  The incident provides valuable insight with respect to crisis and hostage negotiations that can assist negotiators and government officials to be better prepared if they were to be involved in a similar situation where negotiating with terrorists could be the best option to ensure the least amount of casualties are suffered.

Despite the incident having displayed numerous moments that were clear examples of the terrorists escalating violence, the Beslan incident also offers valuable insight into missed opportunities where negotiators could have employed certain tactics that could have increased the chances for a more peaceful resolution.

A review of this incident, specifically conducted by Adam Dolnik (and co-author of our paper) demonstrates that established crisis and hostage negotiation skills can be effective yet the established methods of determining if a hostage incident can or should be negotiated as well as the methods of measuring progress needs to be reviewed.

Read the full article [HERE] and click the info graphic to see a larger version of it.
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Angry Faces Win Negotiations

A recent study caught my attention as it deals with two of my favorite topics- negotiation and nonverbal communication.  Previous research has connected the two with respect to:

This current study, conducted at Harvard, connects when negotiator makes an angry facial expression with greater gains.

From redorbit:

Research has found that facial expressions can convey more information than verbal communication alone and a new Harvard University study has found that an angry glare can add effectiveness to a negotiator’s demands. 
Published in Psychological Science, the study found that an angry glare adds additional gravity to a negotiator’s threat to walk away from the talks. The researchers also saw that the glared-at party tended to offer more money than they otherwise would have.
The researchers said they went into their study with the theory that an angry expression would add credibility to a person’s demands – and make it more believable that they would walk away if their demands weren’t met. 
Read more about the study and the findings [HERE].

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Serena Williams: Tennis Champion & Master Negotiator?

How well does the information shared in negotiation books, blogs, and articles really work in the 'real world'?

We read so much about expanding pies, looking for joint-gains, the value of preparing, reducing the adversarial nature of the interaction, and working towards a (yep, here comes the cliche) win-win.

It's easy to think that in the fictional world of writing, the authors talk about previous real mediation or negotiation settings and tweak a thing here, modify a thing there, and bam- the impression is everything works and they are the masterful conflict resolution professional displaying the tools really work.  
Venus and Serena Williams- tennis and
negotiation champions.

Well, have a look at this snippet from the New York Times (thanks to recent ACRGNY awardee and all-around conflict resolution icon Carol Liebman for sharing it with me) on how Serena Williams brilliantly used her power, planned approach, and understanding of the 'opponent' to succeed.  No, I'm not talking about a win on the tennis court but rather one at the negotiation table.  

Williams praised what she called the progress the tournament had made in player amenities and prize money before asking for a more even distribution of men’s and women’s matches.
“The tone of the conversation wasn’t really, ‘Oh, you didn’t do this and that,’ ” Williams said. “It was: ‘Thank you for all the things you’ve done, and you’ve been so wonderful about listening to the players — both men and women — that we’d like to voice our concern on this arena.’ ”
She added: “I think the situation has to be win-win for everyone. No one likes to be pushed around, whether it’s a group or a person. I think if everyone can find a way that makes sense, then it’s a win-win.”

The negotiation (which included her sister Venus as well) was regarding gender equality with playing time on the main courts at Wimbledon.   

Read the rest here and see how these skills really do work.
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What I Learned About Social Leadership & Listening From a Hostage Negotiator

In her latest diary entry, Eugenie explains what charity leaders can learn from hostage negotiators

(From The Guardian)- As social leaders, we ask a lot of questions. What can I do to help? What do people need? What's my place in the world? But, what I've learned recently is: we should be asking far fewer questions.
As part of the Clore Social Leadership Programme that I'm on, we get training opportunities that we might not otherwise either know about or afford.
I got it into my head that I wanted to do some unusual training with unusual leaders and tracked down former hostage negotiator Dick Mullender. I confess, I was sold on the name alone and arranged a workshop on the art of listening and negotiation.
Dick Mullender
It was some of the best training I've been on. Mullender straight off challenged us on what we think it really means to listen…

Read more from The Guardian [HERE]. 
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Research on First Impressions & Tone of Voice

In a follow-up to my previous post on how important a negotiator's tone of voice is (Quick Tip: Hostage Negotiator's Tone of Voice), I came across this:

How To Make The Perfect First Impression (According To Science)

The tone and tenor of your voice also plays a significant role in determining what kind of first impression you make on others. A Scottish study found that participants overwhelmingly agreed, based on hearing a subject's voice, on a number of personality judgements, including trustworthiness, aggressiveness, and warmth. 
“[Psychologists] have confirmed that people do make snap judgments when they hear someone’s voice,” Drew Rendall, a psychologist at the University of Lethbridge, told Science Mag. “And the judgments are made on very slim evidence.”
Research studies demonstrate how important first impressions are and it's one of the reasons a main component of PhD explores this with mediators.  
Additionally, I am doing another study with law enforcement hostage negotiators and how they do their introduction (hint: the training manual suggestions are not consistent).
Read the full article at Huffington Post here.
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The Real Bergdahl Error

I came across this article talking about the recent negotiation involving Sgt. Bergdahl and crisis / hostage negotiation in general and I thought everyone would find of interest.
From the article:
Truth was the hostage negotiator’s sidearm. Hostage negotiators did not promise what they could not deliver if there was a chance that the terrorists would capitulate. NYPD Detective Captain, Frank Bolz, arguably the best hostage negotiator of his time, said, success is when everyone -- including the terrorist -- walks out alive. 
Why was truth so important?
Read the full article by Abraham H. Miller at [HERE]. 
read more "The Real Bergdahl Error"

Is It Right To Ever Negotiate With Terrorists? (Via USA Today)

The White House recently negotiated the release of the Sgt. Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier stationed in Afghanistan,  who had been held captive for more than five years.  In reply, five detainees from Guantanamo Bay were release to the Qatari Government.  The Qatari government acted as a mediator/in-between during the negotiations. 

The following article from USA Today by Alan Gomez is worth reading.  Below is a snippet:
"I fear that the administration's decision to negotiate with the Taliban for Sgt. Bergdahl's release could encourage future terrorist kidnappings of Americans," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Sunday in a statement.
But security experts like Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies, said that however common the refrain "we do not negotiate with terrorists" has become, it is "repeated as mantra more than fact."
"We have long negotiated with terrorists...
Read the full story [HERE]
This past April here and the ACR Crisis Negotiation Section collaborated by co-hosting Crisis Negotiation Month. As part of it, we shared numerous articles on negotiating with terrorists.  See the articles [HERE]. 
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Quick Tip: Hostage Negotiator's Tone of Voice

Crisis and hostage negotiator's are involved in situations that are tense, stressful, and anxiety-filled.  In order to try to reduce the overwhelming emotions being experienced by the person they are trying to help, the negotiator's tone of voice is an important tool that can help move the conversation toward a peaceful resolution.

According to Strentz (2012, p.81), after interviewing numerous hostage takers, a theme that emerged was that frequently the hostage takers could not recall the specific things the negotiator said to them that contributed to them turning him or herself in. What they did remember however was the tone of voice of the negotiator- it was one of concern for them as a victim and in need of help.

Think about that- the hostage taker felt the negotiator cared for them and felt like the negotiator saw them as a victim.  Can you as a crisis/hostage negotiator talk to a hostage taker so he or she feels like you have genuine concern for them?  This job is clearly not for everyone.  

Even if you are not a hostage negotiator, consider the impact your tone has if you are a mediator, negotiator, ombuds, or conflict coach. Being aware of your tone is the first step to realizing the impact it is having in your role as being a guide in assisting people navigate through their dispute or conflict.  

Your tone, like your other nonverbal (and verbal) communication such as your posture, gestures, and facial expressions is contagious- are your displaying calm, patience, understanding, and empathy?

The tone of voice of a hostage negotiator also is important because of its connection with he or her trying to build rapport and develop trust with the hostage taker.  In order for a crisis/hostage negotiator to be effective in influencing the hostage taker to re-evaluate their situation and accept a peaceful resolution, it requires a negotiator to employ a variety of skills that must be used effectively based on the context of the situation.

Some quick tips with respect to a negotiator's tone of voice:
  • An FBI negotiator during a training once said talk to the person as if they are your friend.  Your situation might be contextually different but ask yourself if your tone is displaying respect?
  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Have your voice emit calmness while also being assertive (they complement- not contradict- one another)
  • Reduce speaking disfluencies ("umms" and "ahhs")
  • Use minimal encouragers ("mmm" and "okay") as it shows interest in what they are saying and encourages people to continue speaking  (Read about more active listening skills here)
  • Be genuine- regardless of what words you use, your tone can show the person if you genuinely care or just "going through the motions"
A negotiator's tone of voice, when used effectively, is a critical tool that can guide the hostage taker towards a peaceful conclusion.  This is not limited to just hostage negotiators as other conflict resolution professionals who are mindful of this will realize how your tone is an important tool in helping people involved in conflicts and disputes. 

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Top 10 FBI Behavioral Unit Techniques for Building Rapport With Anyone

Robin Dreeke
(From Robin Dreeke is head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program.
In his book It’s Not All About “Me”: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick ... he simply and clearly spells out methods for connecting with people.

1) Establish artificial time constraints

Nobody wants to feel trapped in an awkward conversation with a stranger...
Yes, I am sure you want to read more just click [HERE] and read the rest from 
You can also read more on rapport building from a few of my articles:

CPR: Charisma, Professionalism & Rapport

5 Tips On Measuring Crisis & Hostage Negotiation Progress

Tips On Building Rapport

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Your Stress Is Contagious

Mediators, coaches, negotiators, and ombuds- your verbal and nonverbal actions are contagious.  As "guides" in assisting people involved in conflicts and disputes, you can help or hinder them on their journey.

Sometimes your actions and words spoken are purposely done, yet other times unknowingly you "leak" out anxiety, stress, and discomfort.

A recent study demonstrates how your stress can be contagious.  

From one of my favorite sites PsyBlog:
Seeing another person under stress — even when you’re not involved in the situation — is enough to activate the stress hormone cortisol in your body as well, according to a new study. 
In the study, conducted by German psychologists, people who were emotionally closest to each other, demonstrated the highest empathic stress response (Engert et al., 2014).
 So what does this mean for conflict resolution professionals?

I first recommend being aware of your verbal and nonverbal actions by preparing properly.  Preparing can help you not give out stress signals that can then be "caught" by the parties you are trying to assist.

Building rapport, demonstrating patience, and displaying control of the process (while maintaining self-determination) allows you to promote positive signals that also can be contagious.  [Here's some quick tips on how to build rapport and how it can be diminished- all based on research]

Another important element is slowing the process and not rushing towards a resolution- regardless of how "perfect" you think it is.  It is no wonder crisis and hostage negotiators constantly practice this.

Research shows that both positive and negative signals are contagious.  Are professionals, you have the choice in guiding the parties down different paths.  Being aware of your signals is the first step in helping decide which path with be selected.
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Final Week of Crisis Negotiation Month

The month of April is "Crisis Negotiation Month" at  It is a collaboration between the ACR Crisis Negotiation Section and and it will bring you articles, tips, info graphics, and a webinar throughout the month.
Enjoy further below the final week's articles below
Secret Skills of Crisis Hostage Negotiators: Slow Down
If slowing things down works for crisis hostage negotiators, it can help you too
Don’t rush the process.
A crisis and hostage negotiation is a tense situation that can be volatile with lives being at risk so is it absurd that a critical skill for hostage and crisis negotiators is to slow the process down?
The opposite- rushing the negotiation- is a mistake however that has been made however by negotiators. Athough you are most likely not a crisis or hostage negotiator, think about situations where you have rushed things and the result was not what you wanted. 
Read more from [HERE].

5 Steps To Negotiating Like an FBI Agent
(Drake Baer/ If you've ever spent time with human beings, you probably know that it's impossible to change their minds. So what if someone's life is on the line?

Then you call in somebody like Chris Voss, who was once the FBI's chief international kidnapping negotiator, working on about 150 cases worldwide over his 24-year career--and who is now a part of the Black Swan Group, his business consultancy.

“The idea of a durable agreement is the same in kidnapping as [it is] in business," he told Forbes, "only it’s a life-and-death issue."

Read more at [HERE].  
Hostage & Crisis Negotiators: Nonverbal Communication Basics

Learn the skills used by these expert negotiators and how it can help you.
Law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiators are world-renowned for their ability to apply expert conflict resolution and communication skills in situations that are tense, (potentially) volatile, and where lives can be at risk.
Learning the skills that these professionals apply to their distinct negotiation setting is not only interesting but it can also help you.
...Nonverbal communication is not limited to solely “body language” but rather includes a variety of other elements.

Read more from [HERE]. 
Social Media & Crisis/Hostage Negotiation Archive

Check out the webinar archive that was part of CyberWeek 2013 where you can learn about the increasingly important and impactful role social media has during law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation incidents.

More [HERE]. 
read more "Final Week of Crisis Negotiation Month"

"Recipes" for Success from the Greatest Negotiation "Chefs"

Who doesn't like a good metaphor?  I guess if you don't you could stop reading but hey, you already committed to one sentence so please carry on reading.

The latest paper posted by Noam Ebner on SSRN (a great and free resource) has some of the greatest and most well-known academic and practitioner based negotiators from around the world sharing their incredible insight into negotiator effectiveness.  This means you have the following all in one paper:

Andrea Kupfer Schneider (Marquette Law School),
James Richard Coben (Hamline Law School), 
Robert Dingwall
Daniel Druckman (George Mason U.), 
Noam Ebner (Creighton Law School/Werner Institute), 
Howard Gadlin (NIH), 
Christopher Honeyman, 
Sanda Kaufman (Cleveland State U.) 
Michelle LeBaron (U. of British Columbia Law School), Roy Lewicki (Ohio State U.), 
David Matz (UMASS), 
Carrie Menkel-Meadow (U. of California-Irvine Law School), 
Michael Moffitt (U. of Oregon School of Law), 
Jennifer Reynolds (U. of Oregon School of Law), 
John Harrington Wade (Bond U.), and 
Nancy Welsh (Penn State Law). 

For those thinking academic papers are boring, yes some might be but this paper clearly does not fit into that mold.  Rather, all 18 pages provide a genuine opportunity to learn tips from these pro's.

For those who still aren't sold on the idea, the paper starts off by mimicking recipe books by having each author (or "chef") share their "recipe" for a negotiator to be successful.

Because each "recipe" is brilliant, I had a tough time choosing which one to share but ultimately I picked Menkel-Meadow's because I think much of her "recipe" has micro ingredients that require the awareness and ability to master nonverbal communication (yep, I had to somehow connect this all to nonverbal communication).

That said, each offering provides ample time for both academic and practitioners to discern and oddly enough making you want to go in the kitchen and cook something up.

The paper and "recipes" will surely start to pop-up in trainings and other articles so get a head start and download the paper by clicking [HERE].

read more ""Recipes" for Success from the Greatest Negotiation "Chefs""

In Negotiations Environment Matters, Cookies Matter

Image from

As I progress (I think I am progressing at least!) with my PhD on nonverbal communication, I wanted to share a snippet as I move towards completing the research.  As part of my research, I designed the METTA acronym to raise awareness of the importance of the role of nonverbal communication has with respect to the three skills of effective mediators: building rapport, developing trust, and displaying professionalism.

METTA represents: movement, environment, touch, tone, and appearance (see here).

Below I share about refreshments within the "E" of METTA- Environment.  Enjoy and please share your thoughts and comments:

It is also worth noting the role of having refreshments available for the negotiating parties has across the three studies of my PhD (study one was a survey, study two I interviewed mediation trainers and professors, and study three I observed mediation sessions) . Each study mentioned that refreshments were an element within “environment” that mediators need to account for. 

Having refreshments available for the parties has multiple advantages. First, it is part of a mediator’s preparation prior to the session beginning. Having refreshments available displays professionalism similar to how having writing materials available and setting the seating properly does. From a rapport and trust building perspective, recent research as well as anecdotal evidence points to the “affective” benefits of having refreshments.

A recent study showed the hungrier someone is, it can increase their anger and make them more aggressive due to fluctuations in their serotonin levels (Passamonti et al., 2011) . Both are two attributes a mediator is trying to avoid having in their parties if they are trying to promote a collaborative environment for the negotiation. 

 Further, another research study spotlighted how having a meal together in a restaurant while negotiating produced more productive discussions and resulted in greater mutual gains compared to negotiating in a conference room and not eating (Balachandra, 2013). The researchers state the reasons for this are numerous including mimicry (sharing the same kinesic motions of eating), sense of control (no one is forcing you to eat), and regulating predjuice and aggressive behaviors.

Anecdotally, I have been told multiple times how much a people enjoy having their mediations at JAMS (a professional mediation business) offices due to the tasty cookies they have available. As absurd as it might sound, consider the two previously mentioned studies while also thinking of the priming effective the environment can have. If a party shares a meal or thinks of the upcoming negotiation with happy thoughts due to the cookies being served, it can contribute to a positive and collaborative approach to the mediated negotiation. Remember, preparation is key as well as first impressions.

Although the environment might be something easily overlooked or not considered important, the three studies have identified nonverbal communication environmental elements is in fact something worthy of consideration as it can contribute to building rapport, developing trust, and displaying professionalism. The environment clearly matters, even if it is something that can easily be overlooked, not be articulated as being important by the parties, or seemingly pointless such as having sharing in eating a tasty cookie.
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Crisis Negotiation Month Week One Posts

The month of April is "Crisis Negotiation Month" at  It is a collaboration between the ACR Crisis Negotiation Section and and it will bring you articles, tips, info graphics, and a webinar throughout the month.
Enjoy below the first week's articles:
Crisis or Hostage Negotiation: The Distinction Between Two Important Terms
From the FBI Bulletin:
...As time has passed since the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT) was created, something noticeable has occurred in the realm of law enforcement hostage negotiation—the emergence of the word “crisis” being used and often replacing the term “hostage.” Reviewing academic literature, one will find the term “crisis negotiation” being commonly accepted while television and other media outlets still refer to “hostage” as the generalized term.
Read the article from the FBI Bulletin and also see a bigger version of the infographic [HERE]. 
What Do You Say After Hello?
How do you start a conversation with an armed and dangerous person who refuses to talk and whose only demand is that you go away?
Gary Noesner, retired Chief Negotiator of the FBI’s Hostage Negotiation Unit and author of the best-selling “Stalling for Time: My Life As An FBI Hostage Negotiator”, has worked through times like this from the moment he did his first hostage negotiation more than 30 years ago.
Read more from the Crisis Negotiator Blog [HERE]. 
Persuasion & Hostage Negotiation
From (an incredible website btw)
What Hostage Negotiators Know That Most Negotiators Get Wrong
In terms of basics, what do you think people can learn from hostage negotiating that they don’t learn in your typical negotiating class?
Chris Voss (retired FBI Negotiator):
business negotiations try to pretend that emotions don’t exist. What’s your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or‘BATNA.’  That’s to try to be completely unemotional and rational, which is a fiction about negotiation. Human beings are incapable of being rational, regardless. There’s a lot of scientific evidence now that demonstrates that without emotions you actually can’t make a decision, because you make your decisions based on what you care about.
Read the full article [HERE].

Active Listening Techniques of Crisis Hostage Negotiators
...Therefore, active listening when used properly and effectively, displays professionalism, develops rapport, and builds trust. This transcends the world of mediators and hostage negotiators. While reviewing the skills below, one can easily see how when employed in your professional and social setting, it can contribute to you being a more effective communicator.
Below are the seven techniques of active listening that are taught by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crisis Negotiation Unit (FBI CNU) to their special agents and other law enforcement officials from around the world.
Read the full article [HERE]. 
read more "Crisis Negotiation Month Week One Posts"

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