Negotiating Within The Negotiations


The Incident Commander (IC) is brand new. He has spent the last three years as a sergeant in the Property and Evidence section. He was promoted to sergeant four years prior and spent one year running a squad before being transferred to Property and Evidence. Two months ago he competed for and was ultimately promoted to lieutenant.

 As the midnight watch commander, he is still trying to find his “sea legs”…but now this. A “shots fired” witnessed by an officer. The officer chased and forced the suspect to run into an occupied rooming house. Someone yelled from an upstairs window that the officer better not come in. The hostage/barricade is on. He responds to the scene and begins to direct resources, but he has no idea what he is doing. A negotiator who was working an off-duty detail arrives. As she gets out of her car and begins walking toward the IC, he sees her and says, “Oh, thank God.”


The situation described above exceeds the capabilities of the new lieutenant. He has zero critical incident experience. As a result, he is under a tremendous amount of stress which will constrict his cognitive ability, impede his decision-making and by extension, make a bad situation worse. The arriving negotiator can help alleviate some of that stress.




 By using the same techniques, she would if she was on the phone negotiating with the barricaded gunman. In other words, negotiating within the negotiation.


 Negotiating within the negotiation is a term used to describe the application of active listening and empathetic skills to persons other than the barricaded subject. These may include family members, bosses, colleagues or teammates. 


Using labels, mirrors, calibrated questions and paraphrasing are just as effective at returning peripheral individuals to a normal functioning level as they are a bad guy, on whom the negotiations team places most of its focus. Most teams fail to recognize that the skills they have spent so much time honing can be applied in a non-traditional sense. As hostage negotiators, you should be mentally preparing yourself to use the skills even if you have not been dubbed the primary negotiator in an incident.


The girlfriend who is hysterical can be Labeled and Mirrored to the point where she is ready to provide you with worthwhile intelligence. The SWAT commander who is adamant that his way is best can be persuaded with Labels and Calibrated questions. The primary negotiator who is likely to take offense that a decision has been made to take tactical action against the crisis site can be assuaged with Accusations Audits. Just because you are not on the phone does not preclude you from using the skills when a difficult conversation arises. The techniques espoused by the Black Swan Group and perfected in hostage negotiations are based on universal human nature responses. They can be applied to stressful or difficult situations as they occur within the incident as they most certainly will. 

About The Author

Derek Gaunt is lecturer, author of Ego, Authority, Failure, and trainer with 29 years of law enforcement experience, 20 of which as a team member, leader and then commander of hostage negotiations teams in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. As a member of the Black Swan Group, he is a negotiation trainer and personal coach. His training has helped leaders and their organizations increase their performance by changing the way they think about communicating one person to another.