THE MAGAZINE

Show No Fear

By Kevin McCaffery

Step 5: Explain Positive Options

Show how the other person stands to gain by cooperating with you. People are self-centered by nature, so exploit it. Weave in two or three positive reasons why the person should cooperate, and then make your request again.

Back to the hostage situation: “Bob, this situation isn’t going to go away by itself, but we can end it all right away and move forward to get the help and attention you deserve. Don’t forget, Bob, nobody has been hurt yet, so while this isn’t the best situation for you to be in, it definitely could be a lot worse. I’ll also be sure to note in my report your cooperation in all this—you have my personal commitment on that.” (I find that it is very persuasive when dealing with people to make a “personal commitment” to them). “Now what I need you to do is come outside.”

If the person cooperates, you’re done. If not, move to the next step.

Step 6: Explain Negative Options

The previous step—number five—highlights what the person can gain by cooperation. This step lays out what the person stands to lose by refusing to cooperate. Psychologically, people are often more motivated to avoid loss than they are to gain reward. This is an important tenet to remember.

You now identify two to three negatives associated with not cooperating and add them into your discussion. You could even take the positive reasons in step five and recycle them from the opposite perspective in step six.

Another powerful tactic is to ask the other person what the negative consequences are if a resolution can’t be reached. Just ask them, “You tell me, what do you think will happen if we can’t resolve this situation?”  If they answer your question, then the psychological persuasiveness of their response becomes very powerful because it isn’t you telling that person what the negatives are, it’s him telling you.

Remember, it’s difficult for anyone to challenge what they themselves have said. The other advantage to Bob answering the question is that he might even suggest negatives that may not have occurred to you. He’s actually helping your case without realizing it.

Back to my conversation: “Bob, if we can’t get this settled, things move out of my control. I understand you are going through a difficult separation, but none of this will help your case. The entire process will bog down in terms of time and money, and any police intervention that follows will only help your wife. Let’s end it now before it gets to that stage.”

In reality, it already has gotten to that stage, but it would not be helpful to point that out. I always try to give the person a sense of control over their decision-making process, even if it’s only the illusion of control.

Make your request again. If the person cooperates, you’re done, if not, move on.

Step 7: Last Chance

At this point, you are nearly out of options, but you are giving the person one final opportunity to cooperate. Try something like “Is there anything I can say or do that will get you to do what was requested?” Probably the answer will be “no,” but sometimes something reasonable is suggested.

When I asked this of Bob, he replied, “If I come out, will you let me speak to my mother?”

If it is at all possible, I would grant this type of request, because it offers a simple solution that makes the problem go away. Note, in a police-interaction situation, I don’t want to lie or break my promise if possible, because there might always be a “next time” somewhere down the road, and if I lie to Bob today, chances are he won’t forget that. And if there’s a future negotiation with Bob, that negotiator will have an especially difficult time undoing the damage my lie did. If Bob cooperates, you’re done; if not, there’s one more step.

Step 8: Call for Help

At this point, since you are not a hostage negotiator, but an average person faced with a confrontational individual, the time for talk is over. You have asked for cooperation four times and have gotten nowhere. It’s time to get someone else to intervene. Call management or call security. Not only have you asked for cooperation four times, you asked four different ways. (This presumes you were never so threatened that you felt the need to hit a panic button or otherwise call for help earlier. Company policy regarding notification should be factored into any response.)

The objective of these steps is not to impose your will to change the person’s mind but to create an atmosphere where the person changes his or her own mind. When you can do that, you exercise incredible control over any situation.

Your effectiveness managing a situation teetering toward aggression or violence depends on how mentally prepared you are. By developing confidence that you are prepared, you can remain calm. By remaining calm, you drastically increase your chances of keeping the situation from escalating. Having a strategy such as the one outlined here will help you achieve that level of confidence and preparedness.


Kevin McCaffery has worked 27 years as a Staff Sergeant with the Ottawa Police Service (Canada), including 13 years as a hostage negotiator and three years as a police trainer. He can be contacted at McCafferyK@ottawapolice.ca.

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