Show No Fear

By Kevin McCaffery

Step 1: Identify Yourself

If this is a first-meeting scenario, offering your name is a good starting point.

Using your first name confers three benefits. First, it demonstrates confidence in yourself. People who are apprehensive or on the defensive are characteristically unwilling to give their name.

Second, it helps establish the beginnings of rapport and identify you as a person, not some figurehead for an organization. As a negotiator, it’s especially important that people relate to me as a person, not an official, because the other person I’m dealing with may have had negative experiences with the police, and that’s something I want to distance myself from as much as possible.

Third, giving your name provides an opportunity to find out who is confronting you. After you’ve introduced yourself, ask for the other person’s name. If you get it, use it. Psychologically, people like the sound of their own name—it’s called a “stroke”—which also builds more rapport.

Step 2: Hear Them Out

When people are upset, they want to be heard. It doesn’t matter if you already know what they are upset about, let them say their piece. In the hostage example, I knew what was happening, but it’s always good to get the information firsthand whenever possible. Even if you’ve talked with the person before, you can never be sure the next time won’t be a little different. Every little bit of intelligence you gather helps in finding solutions.

In my example, the man knew full well he was in a dire situation, however, speaking his mind helped to rationalize why he took the course of action he did. And after he spoke, he was more willing to listen to what I had to say. (We assume a far less dire situation here.)

Letting them talk is one thing; letting them vent is another. Conventional wisdom advises that you let the person vent when they are upset. Let them scream and rant, and when they finish, you are better able to engage in a reasonable conversation.

While this advice may be sound in most cases, it doesn't fit every case. Venting can make a bad situation worse. I can’t tell you when you shouldn’t let someone vent, but you might want to limit venting  if the person has a violent history or your intuition tells you the situation is escalating. If either condition is met, venting can escalate into much worse.

Step 3: Paraphrase

This fairly standard notion is to restate, in your own words, what you understand the problem or concern to be. You should quote the person exactly if you can and also include an emotional component to your paraphrase, like “I get the sense you are very frustrated by what happened.” 

I avoid terminology and descriptions of an aggressive nature. I don’t use words like “angry.” I believe this sort of language can implant the notion that the person should be angry. Using terminology that downplays the event, such as “frustrated” instead of “angry,” is a better option.

When you paraphrase, open with a comment that goes something like this: “Let me be sure I understand what you just said, is that alright?” This phrase is significant for two reasons. First, “Let me be sure I understood what you just said,” shows concern and empathy. I’ve never received a negative response to it. If a person takes the time to explain a problem, you can be certain that they want to know they have been understood.

The second part of that statement, “is that okay?” is also important. Get a verbal affirmative response to that question. This step helps prevent interruptions from the other person. You are now in a position to remind someone who is interrupting you that he or she has agreed to let you speak. It’s difficult for people to challenge what they already said.

Step 4: Explain Your Position

Now comes the point where you ask the other person to do what you want them to do. But don’t just ask the person; set it up to maximize the persuasiveness of your appeal. This is called “tightening the noose,” and it is made up of three elements: the ‘yes set’ (two to three yeses that help set the tone); a fact; and finally, your request.

The easiest way to explain this is by way of example. In my hostage situation I would say: “Bob, am I right to think you want this to be over as quickly as possible?” (“Yes”) “This is the first time we’ve ever met or spoken to each other?” (“Yes”) “Then, you know I have nothing against you personally?” (“Yes,”) This is a yes set.

Now I continue: “I’m sure you’re already aware of police protocol.” (Even if they aren’t, it still implants the notion I’m being truthful with the person and boosts their own ego.) “We can’t just ‘go away’ until this gets resolved.” (There’s the fact.) “Well, you can make all this happen, what I need for you to do is to come outside.” (There’s the suggestion.)

Notice, I’m not asking that he “surrender.” It’s demeaning to surrender, instead he “comes out.” It’s not a “hostage taking” either. It’s a “situation.” I don’t insult his intelligence; I stroke it.

It’s as much about how you ask for something as what you ask for. So you make your request, whatever that may be. If the person cooperates, you’re done, if not, move to the next step.



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