Negotiating to Win: FBI Crisis Negotiator Shares Insights

Picture this. You stroll into Aldrich 8 on a Monday afternoon and squeeze yourself into a seat along with more than 100 other students who have crammed themselves into every square inch of space in the classroom. You settle in, lean back and relax, grateful that classes are over replica breitling, and then……you get cold called, by an FBI agent no less. It was enough to make anyone speechless, but valiant HBSers joined in enthusiastically to make the talk organized by the Negotiation Club one of the most interesting and interactive events in recent weeks.

Special Agent Liane McCarthy, a crisis negotiator from the Boston FBI office, was the guest speaker and she strove to get the audience involved in how FBI negotiators think about handling tough crises. For an entertaining 10 minutes, a role-play scenario with four students acting as bank robbers and hostages triggered a flood of responses from the audience on how they would have defused the situation if they were the negotiators that day replica watches uk.

You might have expected basic negotiation tools to prove useful in any situation, and for the most part, they do. However, there were several key differences between your basic negotiating scenario (for example, buying a car or even arranging a pre-nuptial agreement) and the hostage situations crisis negotiators have to deal with.

For starters, the stakes are obviously much higher. Not only are the negotiators concerned with extracting hostages, they are also seeking to avoid the use of force to end the stalemate, which could put lives in danger. Moreover, negotiators are constrained by their inability to “create value” for the negotiating party since the FBI’s willingness to compromise is often limited. Lastly, emotions often run high and tension is likely to render logical thought on the part of the hostage-takers near impossible, especially at the beginning.

Nonetheless, valuable lessons can be gleaned from the experiences shared by S/A McCarthy. First, developing rapport and a degree of trust with your negotiating party upfront can prove more effective than using threats or even rational arguments, especially when the tension is close to a breaking point. Threats are likely to prompt counter-threats, raising the tension further. Classic, active listening skills such as repeating previous statements and using non-verbal cues such as nodding are paramount if one is to attempt to defuse the tension.

Second, it is best not to ask your counter-party what he wants unless you are willing to put it on the table as the base-line option and to compromise around it, since it creates unrealistic expectations you will find impossible to meet subsequently.

Third, logical arguments do not always work at first; it is far more effective to let the counter-party come to the same conclusions themselves, either by provoking questions or by giving them time to think.

Asked if women make better negotiators, S/A McCarthy replied that she saw obvious advantages in having women on the negotiating team since they tend to be better at listening and empathizing, but it will be impossible to generalize too much since individual situations may call for negotiators of different genders.

S/A McCarthy wrapped up the session by sharing her personal reasons for joining the FBI’s crisis negotiation team. A teacher prior to joining the FBI, she felt the need to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Law enforcement was not the obvious choice but it did provide great satisfaction, knowing as she did, that she helped save many lives and made a real difference.