A terrorist storms into a Heathrow-bound train and takes hostage all of the passengers, demanding a ransom of £10 million. On the other side of the world, two CEOs meet in a five-star hotel conference room in Hong Kong to finalize a business deal. Off the bat, these two events seem to be completely unrelated, and it is perhaps the case that they only seem to overlap only in terms of their significance of impact – the safety of a nation and the security of the investments of stakeholders, respectively. Otherwise, to the naked eye they seem to entail separate issues entirely, with virtually no overlap. However, as I and the other delegates discovered during this week’s Crisis Negotiation course with CEDR, these two circumstances have a significant common element: the need to involve a skilled negotiator to ensure a nation’s safety and to ensure the best possible proceedings for businesses involved.

The course program focused on the advancement of superior listening skills and the use of those to further develop communication between parties in a negotiation, be those with a terrorist, a suicidal individual, or a large corporation. Although the stakes are different between situations, the basic tenets of negotiation require the development of trust between parties, improved by reciprocity and commitment. The two days of engagement further examined the chain of command in professional negotiation teams and the necessity for communication to exist also internally to best utilize the role of each individual in progressing toward a common goal. After a final mock negotiation involving a terrorist with hostages in London transport, a session of intense media training pushed several people to their psychological limits.

So why was this necessary? While business dealings may involve high-profile cases, it’s hard to understand why learning how to negotiate from high-level hostage negotiators is necessary when one’s focus really lies with mediating between relatively peaceful individuals (plus or minus a few incidents) and incidents in which public safety is not at stake. Yet the analogy used by one of our instructors was that of your standard, everyday commuter who takes a driving course with an F1 driver. Sure, it’s unlikely that he will ever find himself in the situation of racing a car around a track at 200 MPH. And yet, after having done so, driving a normal car at 65 MPH on the motorway will feel like second nature. You have to push your limits in order to expand your comfort zone.

And so we did. The skills learned in this course are undoubtedly invaluable, both in terms of everyday life and in terms of the qualities needed to proceed through difficult business negotiations. Seeking, understanding, and utilizing the nuances of verbal and non-verbal cues, and responding accordingly allows for the development of trust between parties in a negotiation, and thus leads to the development of a more favourable solution. Furthermore, the media training, although stressful and somewhat intimidating, improved the capacity to take control of a situation, to communicate a decided message, and to respond calmly under a hot spotlight. My gut instinct tells me that it is fairly unlikely that I will ever end up having to negotiate for a human life, and I am thankful for that. But having now learned how to drive from an F1 racer, I feel infinitely more confident on the M25.

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By Leah Oppenheimer