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What is a Negotiation Model?

By Aniza Pourtauborde
Updated May 17, 2024
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A negotiation model is a framework of strategies that guide trained crisis negotiation personnel toward successful conflict resolution. It is normally used in situations of conflict that have become aggravated due to the emotional and psychological instability of the aggressors. Aggressors who use innocent victims as bargaining chips to obtain what they want are called hostage-takers, and their victims become hostages. Under these circumstances, the main priority for the negotiation team is for the crisis to come to a peaceful end, with the capture of the hostage-takers and the release of all hostages, alive.

While there are different methods applied by various law enforcement establishments, a typical negotiation model comprises the a number of standard steps. These include gathering information, establishing contact, playing for time, making a deal, and resolving the conflict.

The first step, gathering information, provides overall guidance to the negotiators. Upon arriving at the scene, the negotiation team immediately tries to understand the hostage situation by getting some background information about the hostage-takers, the hostages and the area in which the conflict is taking place. Interviews with family members or other persons associated with the hostage-takers help negotiators form a psychological profile and uncover the possible motivation behind this crisis situation. It is just as crucial to find out about the hostages being held — the number of hostages, their identities, and their physical condition. Through strategically-positioned tactical teams, negotiators are usually able to discover the advantages and limitations of the conflict area, such as size, layout, entry and exit points, availability of utilities and possibility of communication, among others.

According to the negotiation model, negotiators who have sufficient information about the hostage situation can now begin to establish contact with the hostage-takers. Due to high risks, negotiators avoid face-to-face contact and often communicate with hostage-takers via a fixed telephone line. This line has been previously blocked, preventing hostage-takers from receiving or making any external calls other than those intended for negotiators.

Based on the psychological profile that has been done in the first step of the negotiation model, the negotiators will try to build a relationship between themselves and the hostage-takers, and also between the hostage-takers and their hostages. It is important for negotiators to gain trust before being able to proceed with negotiations.

Time is a negotiator's best friend. In the negotiation model, playing for time is critical to reaching a successful conclusion. Hostage-takers have an adrenaline rush when they first hold innocent victims as hostages. The rush of excitement and power ebbs as time passes, however, and hostage-takers usually become calmer and more open to communicating with negotiators.

Expert negotiators can buy time by asking open-ended questions requiring long and thoughtful responses. Another method is by micromanaging the hostage-takers' demands, such as going in detail about the type of food they would like delivered. Whatever the method used, the end objective is to always prolong the negotiation process.

The "making a deal" step determines how the conflict is finally resolved. In the first two steps of the negotiation model, negotiators should gain enough trust to have the hostage-takers confide in them. At some point during the negotiation process, hostage-takers would have listed their ultimate demands for the crisis to come to an end. Each of these demands usually has a specific deadline, which, if not met on time, may lead hostage-takers to harm one of their hostages.

A standard rule of the negotiation model is that demands made by hostage-takers are usually unreasonable early in the conflict. Through time, their demands become less ambitious, and they become contented when less important demands are met. It is for this reason that negotiators are trained to weaken the hostage-takers' resolve by buying more time and prolonging the negotiation process.

According to the negotiation model, crisis situations normally end in one of three ways: the hostage-takers surrender; the tactical teams launch an assault, arresting or killing hostage-takers; or the hostage-takers escape with their demands fulfilled. In each of these cases, the safety of the hostages is not guaranteed. The ultimate goal of negotiation is to resolve conflict in a peaceful manner, ensuring the safety of hostages and arrest of their captors. While the negotiation model guides trained professional negotiators to achieve this very goal, it does not, however, guarantee success each and every time.

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Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On May 12, 2011

I was reading about this the other day in the news. It was talking about how they have psychologists and psychiatrists included in the negotiation teams. They usually listen in on the telephone conversations during a crisis because they can help negotiators make decisions.

I'm really glad that psychologists are so involved with the negotiation process. Especially because people who are starting the crisis must be under some sort of distress or experiencing a personal problem.

A negotiator who doesn't have that perspective available to them might have difficulty interacting with the hostage takers.

By burcidi — On May 09, 2011

I can't even imagine how stressful this job must be for law enforcement. I'm also curious about whether they always follow this negotiation model? Are they allowed to wonder out of this order and try something new during a crisis?

It's just surprising to me that the same general guideline can be used for every crisis. I think that each situation is different simply because the hostage takers are different and have different reasons. But then again, I suppose that's why the background check and information gathering is the first stage.

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