Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter February 2001

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The occasional newsletter of
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)

Number 15, February 2001

This issue of our newsletter addresses an issue that appears on the news altogether too often. Curtis M. Johnson, an acknowledged expert on hostage negotiation -- and one of TNSC's Senior Trainers, contributed the following article.

Hot Tips on Negotiating in a Hostage Situation

By Curtis M. Johnson, TNSC Senior Trainer

You are at your desk and some work from the week before is facing you. Monday morning is here and you're just coming out of the weekend's "daze". Whether you live in New York City or in Bogotá, whether you work in a 2-person office or work with 500 people, the potential is there for surprises. It takes one angry employee, one angry customer to take control of your environment, your little world for a minute, an hour, or who knows how long. You are for that short time -- or for the long run of that incident -- a Hostage.

Can you prepare men and women with the necessary innovative verbal skills, assessment tools, management skills or even preventative qualities that go hand in hand with handling difficult people or difficult situations? The hard answer is you really do not prepare for these situations. Nevertheless, there are some tips to improve surviving a Hostage situation, be it in a U.S. post office or an MD80 Airliner.

Rule Number One; if you are a Hostage, you cannot negotiate your own survival. A hostage Negotiator trained in that field can assist in the negotiations; but you, the Hostage cannot. So stay calm, talk to the hostage taker if a question is asked of you. Do not offer opinions (he or she may not necessarily agree with your side of an issue), but do look at the hostage taker if they are looking at you with that question (it is "more" difficult to hurt a person looking into their sympathetic eyes).

Rule Number Two; During the "chaotic" stage of the hostage take-over incident, everything will be chaotic. There may be loud noises, throwing things, or banging. This is meant to scare you, bring fear to you or this could be as simple as the Hostage taker just being out of control. Additionally, this is the most dangerous stage. In the beginning take-over stage the potential to be shot, slashed, or attacked has the greatest likelihood of occurring. Do what you are told, as quickly as possible. Do not be the "sore thumb" or the "squeaky wheel" person. Stay "low" and out of the way. Stay quiet and unobvious.

Rule Number Three; THINK SURVIVAL. I use an acronym called T.H.I.N.K.
T=Team Control; you are never alone in the incident. Even if you are the only hostage, you will have professionals working to aid your release. However, remember they will not have the luxury of communicating with you directly, so remember you ARE part of the TEAM and your assistance is needed.
H= Hold them Accountable. Watch what is going on around you without being conspicuous. It will be useful in future disciplinary and legal actions. Moreover, it is useful in keeping your mind off your present situation.
I=Instincts, Follow your Instincts. Before you are "caught" up in a poor situation, listen to your gut feeling. Listen to that "butterfly" in you tummy. If the situation does not look right, smell right or even "sound" right or normal, tell someone. Talk to someone in authority. Let people know what you are thinking or sensing. Even if you're wrong, you do not have to live with the failure or guilt of not having let someone know what you felt. Keep in mind Team Control even if you are not on the current team that your senses have been alerted about.
N= No escaping! If you try and you fail, you are in big big trouble with the hostage taker. That will undoubtedly "piss" him or her off. That is not to say if there is an OPEN door, and I am standing by that door, that I would not try to leave. Nevertheless, I would have to consider the other persons being held and their potential problems if the hostage takers got angry over their recent loss.
K= Keep your self-esteem. Keep your chin up. That is so important to your sanity and your survival. Remember your family and your friends. Keep your Pride.

We hope you and your co-workers never need to use this advice.


While this is not 'new' news, we just wanted to remind people involved in purchasing that the NAPM has accredited TNSC's Fighting Fires Without Burning Bridges course for continuing education credit.


Denise Delaney has joined our line-up of Senior Trainers. You can read her bio on our website at:

Like our other trainers, Denise brings extensive experience as a deal-making negotiator to our programs. She also adds new areas of expertise to our team.

TNSC was featured last month in the Christian Science Monitor and will be featured this soon on 'The World', a radio broadcast co-produced by the BBC and WGBH (Boston's original public broadcasting station). The show was recorded in the United States and France.

Our website's advice section, 'Ask Steve's Advice' contains approximately 190 pages of responses to questions ranging from negotiating with children to dealing with pay and promotions. Each time our webmaster, Tim Dubuque, sends out a new quotation he also lists new questions our advice column has addressed. When you're faced with a challenging negotiation situation, visit us at the following address to see whether your concern is covered: If not, let us know so we can respond to your concerns.


We always value comments from our readers and would appreciate hearing from you about our newsletter or other issues. Our email address is:


If you present yourself as the victim in a negotiation, you are sure to emerge as one.

Good luck with your negotiating,

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