How to win friends and influence terrorists to chill out

Gary Noesner served as an FBI hostage negotiator for decades, helping defuse many high profile incidents. Below are some of his toughts on communication and persuasian, taken from his memoir Stalling for Time.


Among negotiators, this process of trust building is called the “behavioral change stairway.” You listen to show interest, then respond empathetically, which leads to rapport building, which then leads to influence.

Fred taught us that the key to successful negotiation was to discern the subject’s motivation, goals, and emotional needs and to make use of that knowledge strategically.

Too much action might trigger a firefight, which is what Webster calls the “paradox of power”—the harder we push the more likely we are to be met with resistance.

Dr. Mike Webster says, “People want to work with, cooperate with, and trust people that they like.” It’s hard to like someone who is threatening you or challenging you.

We know that people want to be shown respect, and they want to be understood. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make.

I protested, saying we might well be able to get things back on track, but they were adamant, violating a core principle of the FBI negotiation program: never confuse getting even with getting what you want.

The very first thing I talk about when training new negotiators is the critical importance of self-control. If we cannot control our own emotions, how can we expect to influence the emotions of another party?

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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