While many people have been exposed to hostage negotiators in movies and television shows, most people would not know immediately how hostage negotiators are trained. Hostage negotiators, also called crisis negotiators, are the first people called in hostage situations or other situations where there needs to be a trained person working with those involved to lessen the crisis and stabilize the situation.
To become a crisis negotiator, a person will likely need to be a skilled negotiator. And then undergo professional training and connections to law enforcement or other crisis centers.
However, with some work and networking, a person aspiring to become a crisis negotiator may find themselves on the front lines of hostage situations negotiating a release. This article will outline the process of becoming a crisis or hostage negotiator. Begin with an understanding of what a crisis negotiator is before turning to the steps in training and some common skills that negotiators teach and learn.
Crisis Negotiating Explained:
When people think of crisis negotiators, the first thought is a hostage negotiation situation like those portrayed in television and movies. Yet crisis negotiators cover various high-stakes negotiation situations that may arise. When people are in crisis, they are often looking to reach an agreement quickly and are desperate for that agreement.
Crisis negotiators become a leader in guiding the parties in the negotiation to an agreement or plan that avoids making desperate or emotional decisions and instead encourages resolution. Crisis negotiators are often present on suicide prevention lines, in government offices worldwide, and on many police forces.
The most common place to find crisis negotiators is in law enforcement offices, where they are ready to respond to threats of violence calmly and methodically. Common situations that may involve a crisis negotiator include:
- Domestic Violence: Many people may not consider domestic violence a hostage situation. In many cases, the victims of violence are trapped and threatened with further violence. A crisis negotiator may step in and help negotiate a release.
- Hostage Situations: When a person is holding other people captive for any reason, regardless of the circumstances and the relationship between the offender and the victims, crisis negotiations will attempt to secure a safe release of the hostages.
- Suicide: When a person is threatening suicide, crisis negotiators may be called in to attempt to convince the person to choose to live. This can be in law enforcement or through hotlines and counselors.
- Government Negotiations: This type of crisis negotiation is not as common, but negotiators have participated in high-stakes negotiations between countries on the brink of war.
Crisis negotiation is a specific tactic used to alleviate a threat of violence. It requires skills and training to become an effective negotiator.
Key Training Steps for Negotiating:
Each jurisdiction and the department will have different requirements for becoming a crisis or hostage negotiator. However, following the steps below may help set up a person for success in the field.
- Degree: There is no formal degree in hostage negotiation. However, some degrees may add skills to a student’s career path. For example, degrees in law enforcement or psychology may help a person understand law enforcement tactics. In addition, the psychology of negotiation may help them get a head start on becoming a crisis negotiation. Similarly, suppose a person can earn a degree in negotiation. In that case, this can help a student understand the ins and outs of negotiation before moving forward with their careers.
- Law Enforcement Officer: Unless the person plans only to practice crisis negotiation through a hotline or online, the most common way to expand their work is to become involved in law enforcement. By becoming a law enforcement officer, a person will learn the ins and outs of the force, how officers respond to crisis situations and learn more about how other hostage negotiators work in crises.
- Specialty Training: The next step in becoming an effective crisis negotiator is to take specific crisis negotiation. This is often created and put on by law enforcement officers that have served as crisis negotiators and are usually required to become crisis negotiators. This training will teach the necessary skills and considerations necessary during a negotiation. Taking one of these training courses will be necessary to achieve the goal of becoming a crisis negotiator.
- Tandem Practice: Many negotiators will start working in crisis situations with a skilled crisis negotiator to help them understand the intricacies of practice and hone their skills before working on their own. This can also bring new life to experienced negotiators, who can see things with fresh eyes.
- Professional Licensing: In many states, a crisis negotiator may not need a separate licensing past their law enforcement licensing. However, some states or jurisdictions may require special licensing, so it is essential to understand if licensing is necessary and what is required for licensure.
These steps are helpful and are a basic overview of a plan to become a crisis negotiator. Each jurisdiction will have its particular set of requirements. It is necessary to understand what is needed and talk to crisis negotiators in the desired jurisdiction to learn how they found themselves in that profession.
Common Skills Learned:
In addition to following the steps above, crisis negotiators need specific skills to ensure they will be effective in negotiations.
Some of these skills include:
- Active Listening: A vital first step for crisis negotiators is listening to the person they are negotiating with. Active listening includes skills such as paraphrasing back, asking questions, and observing more than just what the person says but how they say it. They can observe more about the situation by showing the person they are listening.
- Patience: Negotiation is not for people who lack patience; crisis negotiation is an incredibly grueling process: the slower the process, the more likely a peaceful and complete resolution. Pushing for a resolution can cause the situation to escalate and lead to violence or danger.
- Adaptability: Another critical skill for a crisis negotiator is adaptability. This means they can absorb a changing situation and change their approach based on how the negotiation is going. A good crisis negotiator will respond to the person’s words and needs and adapt the conversations to what is needed.
- Stability: Another essential skill that a crisis negotiator may need is staying calm in crises. While they may be feeling a lot of emotions, the negotiator needs the ability to project a calm demeanor and think critically.
- Self-Awareness: Self-awareness goes along with the stability skill. The ability to understand where one is and how the situation makes one feel. Negotiators need to be able to remain calm, assess the situation, and keep on task.
- Honesty: Crisis negotiators need to be honest in their negotiations. A negotiator should never make promises that they cannot stand by unless there is no other way for a negotiator to avoid violence.
- Empathy: Finally, negotiators need to have empathy and understand that the people causing the crisis are humans with emotions that need to be honored and respected during the negotiation. Empathy is not at the expense of the people being held hostage. Still, it is beneficial to establish a repertoire with the subject.
If a person has these skills and commits to the training, they are well on their way to becoming a crisis negotiator.