No sheriff, police chief or command staff person should act in the capacity of negotiator during a classic critical incident negotiation. However, a disproportionate amount of every police executive’s day is spent facilitating and applying those same negotiation skills utilized during a typical barricade, attempted suicide, or other event involving a person in crisis.
These same skills are necessary to effectively influence behavior during interactions with governing legislative bodies to achieve budgetary or staffing objectives, as well as when dealing with personnel issues such as staffing solutions, promotions or discipline.
Negotiation has been defined as the use of information and power to affect behavior in a “web of tension.” Conflict is a natural part of this process, as participants work to maximize their gains and minimize their losses. Each party embarks into the negotiation with specific, pre-determined objectives, thus introducing their emotions and agenda’s into the process.
As many of these concepts used by police executives have identifiable correlations to those skills applicable to crisis negotiations, it is no wonder that many negotiation teams are comprised of officers who possess those qualities desirable in each level of supervision and are often promoted to higher levels of responsibility.
The skills and techniques learned and honed during various negotiation scenarios lend to those skills that make them a more desirable supervisor. With this in mind, I believe that law enforcement executives could benefit significantly from attending crisis negotiation training as part of their executive training protocols.
One of the primary concepts of crisis negotiation that best represents this correlative is that of the “Three C’s of Negotiation;” Context, Containment and Communication.
After an assessment, every situation is viewed differently based on the agendas and paradigms of those involved. By effectively gathering as much information as possible prior to engaging with the other parties involved, better decisions are made using those practiced decision-making concepts consistent with the individual executive’s management style. Often is the case in which decisions are based on flawed and/or limited information.
This “knee-jerk” reaction or decision leads to poor planning in the initiation of the negotiation process, thus placing the executive or crisis negotiator at a disadvantage from the onset. By remembering the negotiation concept of lowering emotionality to increase rational cognitive function, executives and negotiators alike set the stage for more advantageous interactions and resolutions.
As for the approach, armed with the most accurate information and a calm sense of emotion, the executive’s approach to the negotiation becomes driven primarily by their individual management and leadership style. One of the primary differences between an executive’s and a crisis negotiator’s approach to a situation is that of thinking strategically versus tactically.
While strategic thinking is certainly applicable to crisis negotiations, the tactical concept should be consistently reinforced to help ensure the negotiator’s personal safety as they move to physical locations in an effort to facilitate verbal communications. A strategic approach allows executives greater application of problem solving concepts in promoting a vision and to define the direction of the process.
When an executive employs a tactical approach, it may be construed as a non-verbal or psychological inference that he / she is hiding something, or posturing in a manner that best protects him / her from either internal or external harm. This may again place him / her in an unnecessary or unintended position of disadvantage as he / she works through the process.
Crisis negotiators and first responders are taught to physically contain the crisis site in an effort to reduce escape of the offenders and reduce the possibility of injuries to others close to the situation. Executives may initiate similar actions by removing an employee from field service during an investigation into allegations of misconduct or by “standing up and taking a bullet for the troops” during budget conflicts or other controversy. By physically containing the process to those directly involved, others are better protected.
Both executives and crisis negotiators alike will certainly find the crisis climate exists as they begin the negotiation process. During this stage, the affected principal may realize a sense of feelings of being overwhelmed with contradictory information and / or opinions as to what actions or direction should be taken.
In addition, the onslaught of external pressures from groups such as the media or collective bargaining representatives may promote this sense of confusion and crisis. Crisis negotiators are reminded that one of their initial responsibilities is to promote the concept that they are in control of everything outside of the crisis site whereas the person with whom they are negotiating is in control of the inside. While a different form of control, executives must keep in mind they too must remain in control of the situation through both verbal and non-verbal containment efforts.
This sense of confidence and control lends itself to instill trust and confidence in the executive and the process itself, to others involved. The effective containment of a situation by either the executive, or negotiator, helps stop the spread of potential harm and begins to define the direction in which the process must move to achieve the desired outcome.
Both “Active Listening” and “Effective Listening” skills set the stage for either group to listen for understanding of information, content, emotion and the underlying message being proffered by other parties in the process. Crisis negotiation training emphasizes these skills from the beginning and builds most other skills around these primary listening concepts. By listening with the intent to understand, negotiators and executives alike, gain an advantage as they use these communication skills to promote the process while proceeding in a predetermined direction of the communication.
In addition, the following cautions should be keys to every crisis negotiator’s communication and are certainly as applicable to those same skill sets of police executive officers.
Honesty and Consistency – Executives must ensure their communications are consistent with their management style to make certain during escalations in emotions, their credibility remains consistent throughout the process. Leadership based on honesty and character is rewarded with trust and loyalty from those lead. Spokane, Wash. Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has noted “consistency in executive leadership is paramount to establishing your credibility and reaffirming your character to others with whom you interact.”
While police executives may work for years to build a reputation as an honest leader, crisis negotiators must learn to establish their credibility while dealing with a myriad of time constraints and radical emotional complexities. This is often accomplished by quickly building rapport and establishing trust with those persons in crisis. Executives and negotiators can each learn from the examples of the other when working to establish this trust and rapport.
Word Bullets – like crisis negotiators, executives must be cognizant of the verbiage as well as the tone of delivery used during these processes. Certain words have an ability to promote unintended behaviors or send unintended messages. Words have the ability to open the lines of communication or to shut them down. They have the ability to engage productive communication or to put the message recipient on the defensive. Once again, resulting in an unintended interruption of the process.
Verbal versus Non-verbal Communication – Physical actions, body language and other non-verbal cues may relay conflicting messages provided during the verbal communiqué. Like work bullets, these intended and unintended messages have an effect on the process. By understanding these non-verbal cues, executives can ensure that verbal and non-verbal messages, along with their personal managerial reputation, remain consistent.
Power and Control – While you may hold many of the cards, knowing when to play them and how to manage them to affect the greatest result is important. As crisis negotiators have learned through many years of negotiations, you cannot solve others’ problems or meet their unrealistic expectations, but you may hold the ability to help them resolve those issues themselves.
One of the shortcomings of this concept of negotiation is that while negotiators may work hard to take a kinder / gentler approach in garnering trust and rapport, they may fail to remember one of the basic law enforcement concepts; control and direction through command voice. When necessary, crisis negotiators and executives alike must learn how and when to assert authority over the situation in order to facilitate a specific outcome.
Sometimes, others simply need someone in control to tell them what they need them to do in order to help them regain personal control of the event, emotions or their life. This should be a calculated and strategic play but is one that when used appropriately, renders effective results.
As referenced at the onset, I strongly advocate that each and every command-level law enforcement executive attend a crisis negotiation course. This should be approached with a mindset of application to the processes with which they facilitate, manage or negotiate every day.
Some of the most important concepts instilled in every crisis negotiator are those of thinking outside the box, working toward a common objective, and ensuring those they are attempting to serve are treated with respect and compassion. In each of these cases, we must be willing to consider the concessions we make and the results we realize throughout the process. These are certainly all leadership traits for which most law enforcement executives would like to be known.
Tim Christol is the Chief of Police for the City of Red Bank, Tenn. His law enforcement career spans over 33 years where he has served as a Patrol and Traffic Officer, Narcotics and Criminal Investigations Detective e, Professional Standard’s Division Supervisor, Director of Training, Administrative Division Commander . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos by Mark C. Ide.