Posted in Book Review, Negotiation

A Negotiation “Must Read”

If you read one negotiation book this year, it should be Stalling for Time (2010) by Gary Noesner. Noesner is the former Chief of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, Critical Incident Response Group. The book chronicles the development of the crisis negotiation process at the FBI, and at the same time, the development of Mr. Noesner’s philosophy and tactics for effective crisis management.

As Mr. Noesner shares crisp, first person stories of the remarkable incidents that shaped his career, including the Achille Lauro, Waco, The Montana Freemen, and the DC Sniper, we can see how he mines each moment of human interaction for useful insights. He identifies subtle nuances in crisis communication, such as the difference between interrogation and interviewing, and the difference between emotionally–driven interactions and bargaining interactions. More importantly, he recognizes that these different situations require different tactics, and that tactics must be chosen carefully in light of the desired effect.

What I was most impressed by was Mr. Noesner’s view of his work as person-to-person bridge building. He attests to the power of active listening for demonstrating empathy and conveying a sincere desire to understand, which calms the hostage taker, gives the negotiator positive influence, and diminishes the risk of violence. As he says, “Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make.” Active listening, which includes acknowledging the difficulties the other faces, offers a hostage-taker a sense of hope in what might otherwise be a hopeless situation. Likewise, to Mr. Noesner, when a hostage-taker expresses a desire to talk, this is a “glimmer of hope.” Sometimes, hope is enough to trigger the shift from destructive to constructive interaction, and lives can be saved.

What emerges from Mr. Noesner’s accounts is a philosophy that humanizing people in a crisis situation through shared dialogue is more effective than dehumanizing them through force and coercion, as well as a belief in the transformative power of meaningful communication offered by the “well-trained stranger.” You can learn more about Gary Noesner at his website.