Common Bonds Between Mediation and Hostage Negotiation

Common Bonds Between Mediation and Hostage Negotiation By Susan Ingram

{2:43 minutes to read}

I recently attended a symposium in New York City that was presented by the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation. The first presenter, Lt. Jack Cambria, retired from the NYPD after 33 years of service. His final and most important position was that of chief hostage negotiator for NYPD’s elite hostage negotiation team.

His talk, entitled “Lessons on Conflict Resolution from an NYPD Hostage Negotiator,” revealed many common approaches and goals between our two professions.

Treat people with respect

Lt. Cambria explained how early on in his career he had to confront his own pre-conceived ideas and prejudices about people who were different from him, and find the common humanity beneath it all. He spoke of one hostage-taker who, when asked what his name was, essentially said ‘it’s none of your **** business.” That’s when Lt. Cambria responded, “So, I’ll call you Sir.”

Lt. Cambria spoke of the importance of being able to feel compassion for another person so as to better understand that person’s emotions and actions. He explained how he carefully selected officers to serve on his team who were able to access their own life experiences of love, success, and especially failure, in order to relate to others.

Stay calm and don’t rush the process

Negotiators need to maintain a calm demeanor and tone under the most challenging of circumstances. As Lt. Cambria described, hostage-takers need to be given time to express and fully work through their emotions. It is a process that can take many hours, and cannot be rushed. In fact, by consciously slowing the process down, the negotiator builds in essential time for the hostage-taker’s emotions to calm down.

Use active listening skills

As Lt. Cambria put it, “Listen more, speak less.” Good listening techniques (which may include such skills as asking open-ended questions, summarizing or paraphrasing) enable the negotiator to learn important information, gain an understanding of what the other person is experiencing, and continue to build trust and rapport with the hostage-taker.

Never give up

Lt. Cambria emphasized that the negotiator can never lose faith in the process, and that as long as the negotiation continues, progress is being made. As he so aptly states with respect to these most trying of circumstances, “Success is defined as a lack of failure.”

Indeed, hostage negotiation and mediation do share all of these principles in common. As a divorce and family mediator, I work with couples that are under great stress and emotional overload. I use these principles to help my couples make decisions that will serve their family well as they move on with their separate lives.

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