Manual of Hostage Negotiation






























How Hostage Negotiation Works



A hostage situation is a law-enforcement worst-case scenario, because it places innocent civilians directly in harm’s way. Armed intervention becomes very risky, since the hostages themselves can be harmed either by stray bullets or by the hostage-takers. That makes the negotiation the most important aspect of any hostage crisis. A skilled negotiator must find out what the hostage-taker wants, who he or she is and what it will take to achieve a peaceful outcome, all while ensuring the safety of the hostages and other bystanders.

Ideally, a hostage situation ends with everyone walking away (albeit with some of them in handcuffs). In this article, we’ll find out what happens on the scene of a hostage negotiation, how a negotiator gets the job done and what it takes to become a professional hostage negotiator. We will also take a look at the psychology of hostage-takers and hostages.


The Hostage Situation

Although hostage situations can vary greatly based on the motivations of the hostage-taker and the exact circumstances surrounding the incident, there are some basic facts that apply to all hostage situations.

  • The hostage-taker wants to obtain something. This can be as simple as money, personal safety or safe passage to another country, or it can involve complicated political goals.
  • The target of the hostage-taker is not the hostage; it is some third party (a person, a company or a government) that can provide whatever it is the hostage-taker wants.
  • The hostages are bargaining chips. They may have symbolic value (as at the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which the target was the Israeli government and the hostages were Israeli athletes), but the hostages themselves could be anyone.


Hostage situations move through several distinct phases:

  1. Initial Phase – This phase is violent and brief and lasts as long as it takes for the hostage-takers to make their assault and subdue the hostages. The end of this phase is often marked by the presentation of the hostage-takers’ demands.
  2. Negotiation Phase – At this point, law-enforcement officials are on the scene, and the demands have probably been received. This phase can last hours, days or months and could also be referred to as “the standoff phase.” Physically, nothing about the situation changes greatly. The hostages and the hostage-takers stay in the same place. However, a lot is happening during this phase in terms of the relationships developing between everyone involved. The negotiator’s job boils down to manipulating those relationships in a way that results in a peaceful ending.
  3. Termination Phase – This is the brief, sometimes violent final phase. This phase has one of three results:
  • The hostage-takers surrender peacefully and are arrested.
  • Police assault the hostage-takers and kill or arrest them.
  • The hostage-takers’ demands are granted, and they escape.

The fate of the hostages does not necessarily depend on what happens during the termination phase. Even if the hostage-takers give up, they may have killed hostages during the negotiations. Often, hostages are killed either accidentally by police or intentionally by their captors during an assault. There have even been cases in which the hostage-takers were granted their demands, but they killed a hostage anyway (Aston, pg. 23).

There is also a post-incident stage in which the effects of the incident play themselves out. These effects can include changes in the status of the groups responsible, shifts in the relationships between world governments or increases in security.

Now that we’ve seen how most hostage situations are similar, we’ll take a look at the ways in which some hostage incidents differ from others.


One of the first things a negotiator does when he or she arrives on the scene of a hostage crisis is find out as much as possible about the hostage-taker. The most basic question is: Why did this person take a hostage? There are a few common reasons.


  • The hostage-taker might be emotionally or mentally disturbed. His or her specific reason for taking a hostage may be illogical. He or she may be suicidal. This is the only type of hostage situation in which the hostage is often related to the hostage-taker. This type of hostage situation is unplanned.

According to Lt. Gary Schmidt of the Cheektowaga Police Department in Cheektowaga, NY, this is the type of hostage situation the average police officer faces most often. “Most of the time, it’s a single person involved in a domestic dispute, barricaded in a home. The hostages are family members in the same building.”

  • Some criminals use innocent bystanders as human shields to protect themselves from the police. In most cases, this happens when a criminal is caught, panics and grabs a hostage to help himself escape. In rare cases, hostages are part of a plan used by professional criminals to aid in their escape, but usually, it is unplanned.
  • The most famous hostage situations in history have been the result of carefully planned attacks by terrorists and radical political groups. The hostage-takers intend from the beginning to trade the lives of the hostages for whatever specific goals they want to achieve. These can range from changes in one or more countries’ political policies, the release of political prisoners or the repeal of specific laws. Terrorist groups may also have goals that they will achieve regardless of the outcome: destabilizing the target of their attack and attracting attention to their cause.

Kidnapping is a form of hostage crisis, but it doesn’t resemble a typical hostage situation in which the hostage-takers are barricaded in a known area. Kidnappers keep their hostage in a secret location, and communication is often one-way — the kidnappers tell the authorities what to do. As a result, there isn’t much negotiating.

Regardless of the hostage-taker’s motivation, the basic element of negotiating remains the same. “You work to build a rapport and encourage them to bring about a peaceful conclusion. The same techniques are used whenever someone is in crisis,” said Lt. Schmidt.

In the next section, we’ll find out what a negotiator does at the scene of a hostage situation.


The Negotiator Arrives on the Scene

At the scene of any hostage crisis, the two most important officials are the commander, who has authority over the entire scene and all the personnel involved, and the negotiator, who communicates directly with the hostage-takers. It is vital that these two positions are not held by the same person (Antokol, pg.134). The negotiator has to keep an objective point of view and remain calm, both of which can be difficult if he or she is simultaneously making command decisions. Also, one of the negotiator’s most useful tactics is to cause delays by telling hostage-takers that higher authorities must be consulted before a decision can be made or a concession offered. If the negotiator is the highest authority at the scene, this obviously won’t work.




The negotiator’s first priority at the beginning of a negotiation is to gather information. A lot of information will come from other officers at the scene who have scouted the area or run background checks on the hostage-takers, but the negotiator can learn a lot from the hostage-takers themselves. The negotiator must find out who the hostage-takers are, why they are holding people hostage, what their demands are and who their leader is, if there is more than one. At the same time, the negotiator is paying close attention to the hostage-taker’s responses, mannerisms and general attitude in order to create a rough psychological profile. This can give the negotiator some clues as to how the hostage-taker might respond to certain situations – a negotiator deals very differently with a depressed, suicidal captor than with a cold, rational pragmatist.

Accidental Negotiators

Negotiators in hostage situations are not always trained professionals. Sometimes, a bystander just happens to get involved – maybe because the person can translate between different languages or simply because he or she answered a phone. In 1975, the terrorist group Japanese Red Army attacked the U.S. Consulate in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The terrorists made a phone call to notify U.S. authorities that they had hostages, and a junior embassy officer had the misfortune of picking up the phone. The Japanese Red Army agents refused to speak with anyone else throughout the crisis (Antokol, pg. 135).

When possible, law-enforcement officials bring in a professional negotiator to coach these “reluctant negotiators” along.


Negotiator Objectives and Tactics

Team Work

Hostage negotiators may work in teams, with a primary and a secondary negotiator. The secondary negotiator listens in on all the communications between police and the hostage-taker, takes notes and then provides support, coaching and suggestions to the primary negotiator. Sometimes, the primary just “gets stuck” and can’t think of the correct thing to say, so the secondary can provide assistance.

The primary objectives of a negotiator are:

Prolong the situation.
The longer a hostage situation lasts, the more likely that it will end peacefully. Tactics include stalling while an official with more authority is consulted, getting deadlines pushed back, focusing the hostage-takers’ attention on details such as what type of airplane they want and asking them open-ended questions rather than yes/no questions.

Ensure the safety of the hostages.
This means convincing the hostage-taker to allow medical treatment or release for sick or injured hostages, negotiating the delivery of food and water and negotiating the release of as many hostages as possible. Getting some of the hostages out of the situation not only ensures their safety, but it also simplifies the situation in the event that an armed assault becomes necessary. In addition, released hostages can provide invaluable information about the locations and habits of the captors and the other hostages.

Keep things calm.
From the initial assault through the first hours of negotiations, hostage-takers can be extremely volatile. They’re usually angry about whatever perceived injustice has led them to take hostages, and they are filled with adrenaline following the excitement of their attack. Angry, excited people with machine guns are not good for hostages. The negotiator should never argue with a hostage-taker and never say no to a demand. Instead, the negotiator should use delaying tactics or make a counter-offer. Above all, the negotiator should keep a positive, upbeat attitude, reassuring the hostage-taker that everything will eventually work out peacefully.

Foster the growth of relationships between negotiator and hostage-taker and between hostage-taker and hostages.
The negotiator must seem credible to the captor. That is, the negotiator must act like he or she understands the reasons for the hostage-taker’s actions but still come across as strong – not just eager to please. The negotiator can also encourage activities that require cooperation and interaction between the captors and the hostages, such as sending food and medical supplies in bulk packages that have to be prepared. When the hostage-taker gets to know the hostages and sees them as human beings, it becomes more difficult to execute them. In a 1975 hostage standoff on a train in Holland, a hostage, Robert de Groot, who had been chosen for death, was spared after the terrorists heard him pray for his wife and children. Some of the hostage-takers wept, and two of them agreed to avoid a lethal shot when they pushed him out of the train. He rolled down an embankment unscathed, played dead and escaped a short while later (Barker, pg. 33). When the terrorists selected other hostages for execution, they didn’t allow prayer and killed them quickly to avoid the emotional strain.

Next, we’ll find out how negotiators balance hostage safety with political reality.

Stockholm Syndrome

Spending hours, days and months together doesn’t only foster feelings on the part of the hostage-taker toward the hostages. The hostages often develop sympathy for their captors, as well. This is known as Stockholm Syndrome, named after a Swedish bank heist gone wrong that resulted in a six-day stand-off. The hostages ended up assisting the robber, acting as lookouts and giving him advice, while gradually coming to view the police outside as their common enemy. One of the female hostages even married him while he was still in prison.

There are complicated psychological reasons for Stockholm Syndrome. It is in part a defense mechanism that allows people to cope with an otherwise unbearable situation. It also has something to do with power – the hostage-taker has the power to kill the hostages, and when he doesn’t, the hostages’ relief can turn into gratitude, which eventually develops into sympathy. Also, fear of the police rushing into the situation and killing the hostages accidentally in a shootout is very powerful and helps turn the hostages against the authorities.


Making a Deal

At the beginning of a hostage crisis, the hostage-takers’ demands are often unreasonable. They might ask for huge sums of money or for the release of thousands of fellow terrorists from jails. Of course, the negotiator can’t just give them anything they ask for, even if it would mean safety for the hostages. The policies of any nations involved, the ability to actually acquire the items being demanded and the need to consult with the situation commander and high-ranking political officials all limit what a negotiator can offer to the hostage-takers. Plus, if anyone who took hostages immediately had all of his or her demands granted, the world would face one hostage crisis after another.

However, the negotiator can “chip away” at the situation by offering minor concessions, such as food and water, promises of transportation and media coverage. In return, the hostage-takers can trade some of the hostages or some of their weapons or agree to downgrade some of their demands. By continuing this process, the negotiator can gradually weaken the hostage-takers’ position.

Most countries have official policies regarding negotiating with terrorists. However, these policies shift with time, and they tend to be flexible depending on the situation. If the hostages are children or important political officials, even the most hard-line non-negotiating government might make an exception. In many cases, secret deals are made that allow the government to accept demands and save the hostages but maintain their public hard-line stance against giving in to terrorists’ demands.

Israel, the United States and Russia are all nations that have a reputation for strict non-negotiation policies. However, every policy is open to exceptions. One example is the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847. The Hezbollah hijackers demanded the release of more than 700 Shiites who were in Israeli prisons. After a long ordeal, all the hostages were released (except one American, who was murdered by the hijackers), and Israel released all 766 prisoners.


The 1972 Munich Olympics

The assault and siege of the Olympic Village at the 1972 Munich summer games was triggered by a snub: Two letters had been sent to Olympic officials requesting that Palestinian athletes be recognized and allowed to participate. Neither letter was acknowledged. On September 5, a group calling itself Black September killed several Israeli athletes and coaches in the process of securing nine Israeli hostages.

Negotiations lasted less than 24 hours as the hostage-takers demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinians from prisons in Europe and the Middle East. Negotiators pushed back deadlines repeatedly until 10 p.m., when West German officials realized that they could not meet the terrorists’ demands. They granted the hostage-takers’ request for a bus to take them to two helicopters, which would take them to an airport. There, they would board a plane. The Germans knew their only chance at a successful assault would come at the airport (Aston, pg. 80).

The ensuing gun and grenade fight, which occurred shortly after the helicopters landed at the airport, left all the hostages dead, as well as a police officer and a pilot. Five of the terrorists were killed, and three were captured.


Not Making a Deal

Although refusing to negotiate with terrorists is often a politically popular idea (no one wants to “give in” to terrorists), it can be disastrous. Even if the government has no intention of granting the demands, the process of negotiating itself is vital to achieving a peaceful resolution. Two of the most horrific hostage incidents in history ended in tragedy in large part due to Russia’s outright refusal to negotiate with Muslim Chechen separatists.

In October 2002, armed terrorists took over a Russian theater, threatening to blow it up if their demands for a Russian withdrawal from the Chechen region weren’t met by the deadline. The Russians waited several days before appointing an official government envoy to conduct the negotiations, and then decided to storm the theater using “knockout gas” instead of negotiating further. In the end, 129 hostages died, almost all of them due to the poisonous gas [ref]. Although poor planning and a lack of proper medical care has been blamed for the high death toll, further negotiations may have been able to reduce the number of casualties.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself in 2004, when Chechen separatists invaded the Beslan elementary school with an arsenal of guns and bombs. Again, the Russians resorted to an armed assault with tragic results. The hostage-takers blew up the gymnasium where most of the hostages were being held. More than 300 hostages were killed, more than half of them children.

In contrast, France had a reputation in the 1970s and ‘80s as a nation that was willing to negotiate and make deals with terrorists. The result was that France became a prime target for terrorists attacks, and terrorist groups that had agreements with the French government regularly broke those agreements.

Next, we’ll examine a case study of a hostage negotiation.


Case Study: Princes Gate

In April 1980, members of the Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan took over an embassy at Princes Gate in London, England. The terrorists took 26 hostages in their quest to liberate the Iranian province of Arabistan.

Negotiators kept the terrorists’ leader talking for three days, giving him media coverage of his demands (despite a botched reporting job by the BBC that sent him into a rage) and winning the release of two ill hostages. They earned his trust and got him to relax several deadlines. They also kept him focused on the micromanagement of small details, such as the type of bus he wanted, what kind of food to bring in and other minor matters.

Throughout the standoff, police were working to obtain intelligence about the inside of the building, a complex layout of offices. Information came from released hostages, food deliveries and cameras and microphones hung down chimneys or through walls.

Unfortunately, the terrorists executed one hostage (reportedly because he debated the merits of Islam with them), which forced British forces into action. They combined a carefully planned assault with a distraction provided by the negotiator. This was a breach of standard protocol – usually, negotiators are not told when there is going to be an attack because it is too difficult for the negotiator to avoid giving anything away through tone of voice or choice of words. In this case, however, keeping the terrorist leader on the phone would keep him away from the windows, giving the troops some extra time to get into the building before the hostage-takers discovered the attack [ref].

The assault was a relative success. The terrorists killed one hostage when they realized they were under attack, and the remaining hostages escaped the building alive. British forces killed five terrorists during the assault, including the leader, and arrested the sixth.

For a complete account of the hostage situation at Princes Gate, see Operation Nimrod: The SAS Assault at Princes Gate.

In the next section, we’ll find out how someone becomes a professional hostage negotiator.


By the Book

Lt. Schmidt described a relatively “typical” incident that was resolved peacefully because the crisis negotiators followed their training. The first phone call came from a woman who was involved in a domestic dispute with her husband, who was angry and carrying a handgun. Although he had not pointed it at her, she was frightened and secretly called the police from another part of the house.

When the Cheektowaga police responded, they deployed their tactical unit, which is a S.W.A.T. team, to set up a perimeter around the house. A tactical support unit, which sets up communications equipment, handles logistics and includes the negotiators, backed up the S.W.A.T. team. Whenever possible, the tactical support unit uses two negotiators, a primary and a secondary negotiator. In this case, Lt. Schmidt was acting as the secondary.

They made contact by phone with the hostage-taker and continued negotiating with him for several hours. The negotiator built up a rapport with him by discussing the marital problems that had lead to his “crisis point.” Although he had still not fired the gun or aimed it at anyone, he had made threats to use it, so there was a real danger to the hostage and police. In the end, because they had built a relationship with the hostage-taker, they were able to convince him to leave the gun inside the house and come to the front door to surrender. “It’s very important to get them to leave their weapons behind when they surrender,” said Lt. Schmidt.

The S.W.A.T. team took the hostage-taker into custody without incident.


Becoming a Hostage Negotiator

The path to becoming a professional hostage negotiator can be a winding one. There are training courses and certifications, but an important aspect of dealing with a crisis is experience. Someone fresh out of college could take every negotiator training course ever offered and still not get a job as a negotiator. The bedrock of a negotiator’s career is several years working as a law-enforcement officer (whether with the police department, FBI or other law-enforcement group) or in the military and dealing with crisis situations on a regular basis. “You hone your skills as an officer, because you talk to people all the time. A lot of the people you talk to, while not in an ‘official crisis,’ are in some kind of crisis situation,” said Lt. Schmidt. “You learn a lot just from active listening and interacting with people.”


Role-playing – in this case, acting out a hostage situation – has become a hallmark of law-enforcement recruit selection.

Education and training is important as well, and there are plenty of courses being offered to help police officers, FBI agents, military personnel and others learn how to negotiate in a hostage situation. The Public Agency Training Council (PATC), a private company that offers training courses to law-enforcement agencies, has courses on dealing with emotionally unstable persons, specific tactics for use in negotiations and complete negotiator courses (see PATC: Hostage Courses). The International Association of Hostage Negotiators also sponsors seminars and training courses (see Training Schedule and Information).

A hostage negotiator’s training is never complete. The FBI and other agencies offer recurring training seminars. The Cheektowaga Police Department’s crisis negotiators have teamed up with other law-enforcement agencies in their region to form an association that meets several times each year to offer critiques, suggestions and support.

To explore one example of the training process for a hostage negotiator and find out what type of factors trainees are evaluated on, see the Hostage Negotiation Study Guide 2003 developed jointly by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.



  • Negotiate better deals and contracts
  • Increase sales – even in competitive environments
  • Reduce costs with vendors
  • Deal with difficult negotiators
  • Strengthen your negotiation position
  • Improve relationships
  • Create value in your negotiations
  • Adjust your negotiation style for different situations
  • Avoid being cheated
  • Conduct negotiations with confidence




Negotiation styles vary with the person, their beliefs and skills, as well as the general context in which they occur. Here are a number of different styles considered from different viewpoints.

Belief-based styles

There is a common spectrum of negotiation that ranges from collaborative to competitive. The approach taken is generally based on

Professional styles

Professional styles are those use by people who have a significant element of negotiation in their roles. Here is a selection of different contexts in which such negotiation takes place.

Contextual styles

Negotiation often happens within non-professional contexts, where the people either do not know that they are negotiating or they are not skilled at it.

  • Domestic: Discussions and arguments at home.
  • Everyday: Everybody, every day, negotiates.
  • Hierarchical: Parent-child, boss-subordinate, etc.


8 stages of negotiation process


This is a unique combination framework that puts together the best of many other approaches to negotiation. It is particularly suited to more complex, higher-value and slower negotiations.

  1. Prepare: Know what you want. Understand them.
  2. Open: Put your case. Hear theirs.
  3. Argue: Support your case. Expose theirs.
  4. Explore: Seek understanding and possibility.
  5. Signal: Indicate your readiness to work together.
  6. Package: Assemble potential trades.
  7. Close: Reach final agreement.
  8. Sustain: Make sure what is agreed happens.


There are deliberately a larger number of stages in this process as it is designed to break down important activities during negotiation, particularly towards the end. It is an easy trap to try to jump to the end with a solution that is inadequate and unacceptable.

Note also that in practice, you may find variations on these, for example there may be loops back to previous stages, stages overlapping, stages running parallel and even out of order.

The bottom line is to use what works. This process is intended to help you negotiate, but do not use it blindly. It is not magic and is not a substitute for thinking. If something does not seem to be working, try to figure out why and either fix the problem or try something else. Although there are commonalities across negotiations, each one is different and the greatest skill is to be able to read the situation in the moment and adapt as appropriate.


The Three-stage negotiation process is a quick and easy method of reaching agreement in the many different short situations you may find yourself in where the eight-stage negotiation process is too complex a process for you.

Typical situations where a short negotiation is used includes domestics requests and retail purchases.

The three stages are simply:

  • Open: Say what you want
  • Bargain: Hammer out the deal
  • Close: Agree and exchange




 Hostage negotiation happens when a criminal uses innocent people as bargaining chips. This can happen in a range of circumstances, including:

  • A desperate mother who barricades herself in with her own child.
  • A bank robber who is disturbed on the job.
  • Terrorists who take foreign nationals.


  • There may be one or more hostages of any age
  • The situation may be planned or ad hoc.
  • There may be one or more hostage-takers, who are usually armed.

Fortunately for most of us, we never meet these situations. Fortunately for those who become hostages, there are professionals whose job it is to get them safely released.

Assessing the situation

Preventing early harm

The first job of the hostage negotiator is to create safety. When they arrive on the scene, there may be armed police, high emotion and general confusion in which hostages may get hurt.

Their immediate task is to get a swift briefing from the officer in charge and to ensure that any actions by the police do not lead to hostages being harmed. The police (or whatever authority is in charge) will have a high interest in capturing the hostage-taker, whilst the negotiator is only interested in the safety of the hostages.

Getting organized

The next step is to organize communications with the hostage-takers. Hostage-takers usually want this, to make their demands known. If the negotiation looks like it could take some time (which may be days or more), then a permanent position must be found.

There may also be covert monitoring, for example with window lasers and hidden cameras. Everything that provides information is used, including relatives, friends and other sources.

Finding information

The negotiator will want to find as much information about the situation as possible, including:

  • The numbers and names of the hostage-takers.
  • What they are demanding and what they really want.
  • Their emotional state and how close they are to harming hostages.
  • The numbers and general health of hostages.

Some of this information may be available from the authorities. Other will be gained from the hostage-takers. In the early conversation with them, which is very much about listening, the negotiators may find out much of this. Some other information may take a while to extract.

The hostage-takers will want to make their demands known, but may be very cagey with other information as they fear deception and attack.

The police will also want all information, including the location of everyone in the situation, in case an armed assault is required.


Getting close

A critical process used in many hostage negotiations is to get close to them, to gain their trust.

Creating normality

Whilst there may be chaos and panic on all sides, the negotiator first seeks to create calm. They talk in a calm voice and do a great deal of listening. In particular, they seek to establish a sense of normality amongst the emotion, a space in which the hostage-takers can talk with the negotiator as reasonable people, much as you would talk with any normal person on the phone.

The negotiator is always there and always ready to talk. They will listen to everything and will create an even keel on which reasonable negotiation can be conducted.

Creating humanity

Within the normality, the negotiator listens uncritically to the hostage-taker, accepting them as they are and creating a sense of humanity. From that humanity, they then can extend to discussing the hostages, how they are bearing up and whether they are unwell.

Developing authority

The negotiator may also seek to position themselves as an authority figure. This may start by being authoritative on behalf of the hostage-taker, for example in getting them communications and food. This may later turn to being authoritative with the hostage-taker. This can be a tricky and dangerous activity, as the hostage-taker wants to be in charge. Authoritative work may thus be done in particular circumstances. Nevertheless, if the negotiators can establish this relationship, they may be able to direct the hostage-taker’s actions more effectively.

Developing the scene

Once a relationship is established, the negotiator can seek to move the situation forward.

Small steps

Progress may be in small steps, as trust and relationships continue to be built. Food and medicine may be given. Conversation with a hostage may be requested. Everyday chat creates normality.

Depending on the urgency of the situation, the negotiator may seek to speed up or slow down the talking. If hostages are hurt, then speed may be needed. If the hostage-takers are requiring transport or other things that would lead to more problems, then it may be more prudent to insert delays, such as saying you are ‘looking into it’.

Managing stress

Stress and tension will continue throughout the negotiation in some way. The negotiator may deliberately manage this, reducing stress to create hostage safety, but also possibly increasing stress to wear down the hostage-taker.

Exploring solutions

Talks will eventually get around to what can be done to resolve the situation. The negotiator may ask the hostage-taker for their thoughts and may offer possibilities themselves. Of course the safe release of the hostages is always an important element.

The goal of the hostage taker may be simply to escape and may be for publicity or other gain. If this is not acceptable to the authorities, for example release of a captured terrorist leader, then other alternatives must be found.

Releasing the hostages

Wearing them down

Sometimes, just talk, talk, talk is enough to wear down the hostage-takers and for them to give themselves up. High emotions do not last for ever and are followed by exhaustion. The ideal negotiation thus ends with the hostage-taker agreeing to let everyone go.

Releasing the weak

Depending on the number of people taken hostage, a release of children, old people and those with medical conditions may be negotiated. It allows the hostage-takers to show that they are not ‘bad’ people after all and also rids them of the problems of illness and wailing children.

Concessions for people

People may also be exchanged for various concessions, from food to publicity. When something is given to the hostage-takers, especially if it is on their list of demands, then a concession may be requested in return, with the ultimate concession of hostage release.

The final assault

It is a very delicate balance for the negotiator when no clear exchange can be found and the hostage-takers look like they are going to kill hostages. Whilst they are seeking to create exchange, the negotiator must also find the point at which they pull the plugs and let the armed forces take over. Even though some hostages may be killed, force may ultimately be the best solution to minimize total harm.



Trust is the key to the door of other people’s minds. If they don’t trust you, then you haven’t a hope in Hades of persuading them. If they do trust you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can persuade them, but at least they will now listen to you and take you seriously.

Trust is

Creating trust

When trust goes wrong


So manage trust carefully. It can, as they say, take a lifetime to build and a moment to lose. And the simplest way to do this is to be trustworthy. Be dependable. Care about people. Deception may persuade people for now, but the cost of being found out can be extremely high.


Stress is a part of the human condition, a gift from nature to help keep us motivated. Sometimes, however, we get too much of it. In yourself and in changing minds, managing stress is a key activity.


First, manage your own stress. Listen to your body. Spot the symptoms. Then find ways of reducing it. Relax, exercise, eat well. When you are feeing stressed, take a break. Under excessive stress, you are not at your best — in fact you are near your worst. A bit of stress is ok, but too much is very bad for you.

Stress is also a key tool in persuasion, and creating tension happens in virtually all persuasive situations. The trick is to manage that stress: too much and the person will crack. Too little and they will not change.




STRESS is something that affects us all. If we can learn to recognize it, then we can learn to manage it. Management of stress often seeks to reduce it in ourselves, friends and clients. It also can be a tool for motivation and persuasion, as increasing tension also increase the desire to reduce it. It thus be used, with care, to effectively move both ourselves and others.

The effects of stress

The effects of stress on us are physical, cognitive and behavioral. Gaining a good understanding of these things will place you well over half-way towards being able to manage them.

Stress affects our bodies and thoughts and can eventually kill us. It triggers primitive reactionsand we cope with it in ways that are often dysfunctional.

Stress management

The effects of stress on us are physical, cognitive and behavioral. To manage stress, you can do it either from the outside, physically, or from the inside, transforming stress into a positive force for good.

Physical relaxation

Stress occurs in the body, felt as physical muscular tension. It also works backwards. Acting to relax the body also acts to relax the mind. There are two ways to relax physically: exercise and direct relaxation.

Physical exercise works by giving the body the workout that it is designed to receive. The body then does the relaxing that it is supposed to do also. When muscles are tired, they are forced to let go and relax. Exercise can also be gentler, and combined with meditative techniques, such as Tai Chi and Yoga.

Listening to relaxing music also helps. Classical music such as by Mozart and Pachobel is better than energetic pop or jazz (which is no better than silence). Energetic music can help if it acts to distract you from stressful thoughts.

Direct relaxation is at the floppy end of the scale, and is usually done in conjunction with something that distracts the mind from those things that are causing stress. Thus watching a movie or reading a book whilst ensconced in a nice comfortable armchair (perhaps with a beer in your hand) is a great method for many people.

Making stress positive

Sublimation is the method we use when we displace negative stresses into positive and useful actions. Thus we can take the tension of being a student and use it to motivate ourselves to work hard, or take the frustrations of work and sublimate these into a useful and creative hobby.

Stress can also be converted to a positive force by gaining a deeper understanding of the people who are causing stress for you. When you realize that much of their behavior towards you is actually displaced frustrations about themselves, you can convert your own fear andanger into genuine concern for them.

Using stress to persuade

Using stress to persuade is pretty much how persuasion works. Virtually all persuasive activities involve manipulation of stress levels, whether this is realized or not. For example, the Hurt and Rescue principle appears in many different forms of persuasion. Conditioning involves associationof stress and comfort with undesirable and desirable things.

The biggest trick in using stress is in the appropriate levels being used. Too much and you will trigger the Fight-or-Flight reaction. Too little and you will not get any motivated response. To find the right level of stress requires a great deal of attention and sensitivity. People who lack empathy often go about motivating others with a sledge-hammer, and consequently largely are unsuccessful.


Here are academic theories about how we handle discomfort.




‘A drowning person will clutch at a straw’, so push them in the water, then throw them a rope.

How it works

‘Hurt and Rescue’ is the underlying principle beneath many different persuasion methods.


Hurting the other person does not mean physical harm and it may not even mean making them feel bad, but it does mean creating a tension that they want to resolve.

Negative and positive hurt

Negative hurting means making them feel pain of some kind, pointing out what is wrong, making them want to get away from something.

Positive hurt, on the other hand, means making the other person want something, creating desire, seeing what is good.

Active and passive hurt

Actively hurting someone means taking deliberate action, setting them up, causing them pain by what you do.

Passive hurt may mean deliberately allowing a person to be hurt when you could rescue them earlier (perhaps to have a greater effect later).


Rescuing a person means removing their hurt, saving themselves from their pains. It createsclosure and relief.

Rescuing can be a bit like fishing. It’s not just about reeling in the fish. If they feel you pulling, then they may pull back and you end up either with a tug of way or a broken line and a fish disappearing into the distance.

Grasping hopefully at straws

Rescue may start with hope, as people envisage and predict the relief of being rescued. Thus they will grasp at straws in the desperate hope of rescue.


In the ideal rescue, the solution is available and the person rescues themself without your intervention. This can be arranged, for example, by putting it in their path and helping them to ‘find’ it. You can then be suitably impressed and congratulate them.
A key benefit of self-rescue is that they fully own the solution hence are likely to adopt it more fully.

Requested rescue

It helps a great deal if, rather than having rescue thrust upon the person, they ask for it first. This helps to ensure they appreciate and own the solution.

Offered rescue

In practice, it is often necessary for you to offer rescue, such as when they cannot see a solution even when it is in front of them.
When doing this, you may get some objections and resistance which you must handle.

Enforced rescue

Finally, you may effect the rescue without their permission, for example when they are in imminent danger.
In such cases, they may not realize they are hurt and may strongly resist your rescue attempts.

‘Hurt and Rescue’ seems pretty negative, by the way, but do not be fooled by the wording. As with most methods, it can be used for good or bad.

Hurt and rescue methods can range from the classic ‘Good cop–bad cop’ routine to the most principled of therapeutic technique.



Here are academic theories about how we gain and use power.


Power is the ability to get what you want. As what you want is often constrained by other people, the use of power often includes changing or influencing what others think, believe and do. It is at the heart of all techniques of changing minds.

Further information on power:


Understand the power you have as well as the power of other people. Use your own power carefully. Perhaps the greatest power you can have is to get others to use their power on your behalf.


Beware of sleeping dragons: many people will only use their power when aroused. The most effective power is that used so subtly that people do not realize it is being used.

Power does not have to be used directly: threats are often effective, especially when accompanied by displays of power. Like gorillas thumping their chests, we seldom need to fight.


Power is often expressed in communication as a combination of strength and humanity. This is very attractive and is a form of Hurt and Rescue.



As the other person approaches, move to left side, extend your arm horizontally, palm down (be first to do this). Grab their palm firmly, pull them in and hold their elbow with your left hand.

The horizontal arm is an unmissable signal. Palm on top is being dominant, putting yourself on top. Holding the elbow further controls them.

The royal handshake is outstretched arm to keep the other at their distance. A limp hand, palm down, stops them doing a power shake.


Touching is power symbol. Touching people can be threatening, and is used by leaders to demonstrate power.

The handshake is, of course, a touch, and can lead to further touching, such as the elbow grip and patting shoulders and back.

Guide people with a palm in the small of the back. Greet them with a hand on the back. Touch them on the elbow or other ‘safe’ areas.



Talk with confidence and use the body beat in time with assertions. Beat with a finger, a palm or even a fist (which is rather aggressive). Emphasize and exaggerate your points.

Use silences too. Pause in the middle of speaking and look around at everyone. If you are not interrupted they are probably respecting your power. Stand confidently without speaking. Look around, gazing into people’s eyes for slightly longer than usual.


It is powerful to show that you have emotion, but in the right place only. It shows you are human. At other times it emphasizes how you are in control. A neat trick is to bite the lower lip, as it shows both emotion and control (Bill Clinton did it 15 times in 2 minutes during the Monica Lewinsky ‘confession’).



Walk with exaggerated swinging of arms, palm down and out. Kink elbows outwards, making the body seem wider. Add a slight swagger.

When walking with others, be in front of them. When going through doors, if you are going to an audience, go first. If you are going from an audience, go last (guiding others through shows dominance).


Generally be higher. Sit on a higher chair. Stand over people. Wear heels. Drive a higher car.


Dominant body language is related to aggressive body language, though with a less emotional content.

Size signals

The body in dominant stances is generally open, and may also include additional aspects.

Making the body big

Hands on hips makes the elbows go wide and make the body seem larger. So also does standing upright and erect, with the chin up and the chest thrust out. Legs may be placed apart to increase size.

Making the body high

Height is also important as it gives an attack advantage. This can be achieved by standing up straight or somehow getting the other person lower than you, for example by putting them on a lower seat or by your standing on a step or plinth.

Occupying territory

By invading and occupying territory that others may own or use, control and dominance is indicated. A dominant person may thus stand with feet akimbo and hands on hips.

Superiority signals

Breaking social rules

Rulers do not need to follow rules: they make the rules. This power to decide one’s own path is often displayed in breaking of social rules, from invasion and interruption to casual swearing in polite company.


Owning something that others covet provides a status symbol. This can be territorial, such as a larger office, or displays of wealth or power, such as a Rolex watch or having many subordinates.

Just owning things is an initial symbol, but in body language it is the flaunting of these, often casually, that is the power display. Thus a senior manager will casually take out their Mont Blanc pen whilst telling their secretary to fetch the Havana cigars.


A dominant act is to disrespect the ownership of others, invading their territory, for example getting to close to them by moving into their body space. Other actions include sitting on their chairs, leaning on their cars, putting feet up on their furniture and being over-friendly with their romantic partners.

Invasion says ‘What’s yours is mine’ and ‘I can take anything of yours that I want and you cannot stop me’.

Belittling others

Superiority signals are found both in saying ‘I am important’ and also ‘You are not important’. Thus a dominant person may ignore or interrupt another person who is speaking or turn away from them. They may also criticize the inferior person, including when the other person can hear them.

Facial signals

Much dominance can be shown in the face, from disapproving frowns and pursed lips to sneers and snarls (sometimes disguised as smiles).

The eyes can be used to stare and hold the gaze for long period. They may also squint, preventing the other person seeing where you are looking. They may also look at anywhere but the other person, effectively saying that ‘you are not even worth looking at’.

Faces can also look bored, amused or express other expressions that belittle the other person.

Dominant people often smile much less than submissive people.

Phallic displays

Dominant men will often expose their crotch, effectively saying to other men ‘I am safe from attack’ or ‘my penis is bigger than yours’, whilst showing off. They may also be offering ‘come and get it!’ to women. When women do this, it is to some extent a tease or invitation to men but may also be an emulation of the male display, thus saying ‘I am as strong as a man’.

This appears in standing or sitting where the legs are apart. It may be emphasized by scratching or adjusting of the crotch.

The dominant greeting

When people first meet and greet, their first interaction sets the pattern for the future relationship. When a person is dominant here, then they will most likely continue to be dominant.

The handshake

A classic dominant handshake is with the palm down, symbolically being on top. Another form of dominant handshake is to use strength to squeeze the other person.

Holding the other person’s hand for longer than normal also shows that you are in control.


Prolonged, unblinking eye contact acts like overplaying the handshake — it says ‘I am powerful, I can break the rules.’ The dominant person may alternatively prevent eye contact, saying ‘You are beneath me and I do not want even to look at you.’


The person who speaks first often gets to control the conversation, either by talking for longer or by managing the questions.

Responding to dominance

If others display dominant body language you have a range of options.

The simplest response is simply not to submit, which is what they probably want. Continue to appear friendly and ignore their subtle signals.

Another response is to fight dominance with dominance, for example:

  • Out-stare them (a trick here is to look at the bridge of their nose, not their eyes).
  • Touch them, either before they touch you or immediately when they touch you.
  • When they do a power handshake, grab their elbow and step to the side.
  • When they butt in to your speech, speed up, talk more loudly and say ‘let me finish!’

Another approach is to name the game. Ask them why they are using dominant body language. A good way to do this is in a curious, unafraid way.


A significant cluster of body movements is used to signal aggression.

This is actually quite useful as it is seldom a good idea to get into a fight, even for powerful people. Fighting can hurt you, even though you are pretty certain you will win. In addition, with adults, fighting is often socially unacceptable and aggression through words and body language is all that may ever happen.


Facial signals

Much aggression can be shown in the face, from disapproving frowns and pursed lips to sneers and full snarls. The eyes can be used to stare and hold the gaze for long period. They may also squint, preventing the other person seeing where you are looking.

Attack signals

When somebody is about to attack, they give visual signal such as clenching of fists ready to strike and lowering and spreading of the body for stability. They are also likely to give anger signs such as redness of the face.

Exposing oneself

Exposing oneself to attack is also a form of aggression. It is saying ‘Go on – I dare you. I will still win.’ It can include not looking at the other person, crotch displays, relaxing the body, turning away and so on.


Invading the space of the other person in some way is an act of aggression that is equivalent to one country invading another.

False friendship

Invasion is often done under the cloak of of familiarity, where you act as if you are being friendly and move into a space reserved for friends, but without being invited. This gives the other person a dilemma of whether to repel a ‘friendly’ advance or to accept dominance of the other.


When you go inside the comfort zone of others without permission, you are effectively invading their territory. The close you get, the greater your ability to have ‘first strike’, from which an opponent may not recover.


Touching the person is another form of invasion. Even touching social touch zones such as arm and back can be aggressive.


Insulting gestures

There are many, many gestures that have the primary intent of insulting the other person and hence inciting them to anger and a perhaps unwise battle. Single and double fingers pointed up, arm thrusts, chin tilts and so on are used, although many of these do vary across cultures (which can make for hazardous accidental movements when you are overseas).

Many gestures are sexual in nature, indicating that the other person should go away and fornicate, that you (or someone else) are having sex with their partner, and so on.

Mock attacks

Gestures may include symbolic action that mimics actual attacks, including waving fingers (the beating baton), shaking fists, head-butts, leg-swinging and so on. This is saying ‘Here is what I will do to you!’

Physical items may be used as substitutes, for example banging of tables and doors or throwing . Again, this is saying ‘This could be you!’

Sudden movements

All of these gestures may be done suddenly, signaling your level of aggression and testing the other person’s reactions.

Large gestures

The size of gestures may also be used to signal levels of aggression, from simple finger movements to whole arm sweeps, sometimes even with exaggerated movements of the entire body.


Gestures, the movement of arms and hands, are different from other body language in that they tend to have a far greater association with speech and language. Whilst the rest of the body indicates more general emotional state, gestures can have specific linguistic content.

Gestures have three phases: preparation, stroke and retraction. The real message is in the stroke, whilst the preparation and retraction elements consist of moving the arms to and from the rest position, to and from the start and end of the stroke.


Emblems are specific gestures with specific meaning that are consciously used and consciously understood. They are used as substitutes for words and are close to sign language than everyday body language.

For example, holding up the hand with all fingers closed in except the index and second finger, which are spread apart, can mean ‘V for victory’ or ‘peace’ (if the palm is away from the body) or a rather rude dismissal if the palm is towards the body.

Iconic gestures

Iconic gestures or illustrators are closely related to speech, illustrating what is being said, painting with the hands, for example when a person illustrates a physical item by using the hands to show how big or small it is. Iconic gestures are different from other gestures in that they are used to show physical, concrete items.

Iconic gestures are useful as they add detail to the mental image that the person is trying convey. They also show the first person or second person viewpoint that the person is taking.

The timing of iconic gestures in synchronization with speech can show you whether they are unconscious or are being deliberately added for conscious effect. In an unconscious usage, the preparation for the gesture will start before the words are said, whilst in conscious usage there is a small lag between words and gesture (which can make the speaker appear manipulative).

Metaphoric gestures

When using metaphoric gestures, a concept is being explained. Gestures are in three-dimensional space and are used to shape and idea being explained, either with specific shapes such as finger pinches and physical shaping, or more general waving of hands that symbolizes the complexity of what is being explained.


Regulators are used to control turn-taking in conversation, for example in the way that as a person completes what they are saying, they may drop their arms, whilst a person wanting to speak may raise an arm as if to grasp the way forward.

Affect displays

Gestures can also be used to display emotion, from tightening of a fist to the many forms of self-touching and holding the self. Covering or rubbing eyes, ears or mouth can say ‘I do not want to see/hear/say this’. Holding hands or the whole body can indicate anxiety as the person literally holds themself. Self-preening can show a desire to be liked and can indicate desire of another.

Beat gestures

Beat gestures are just that, rhythmic beating of a finger, hand or arm. They can be as short as a single beat or as long as needed to make a particular point.

Beating and repetition plays to primitive feelings of basic patterning, and can vary in sense according to the context. A beat is a staccato strike that creates emphasis and grabs attention. A short and single beat can mark an important point in a conversation, whilst repeated beats can hammer home a critical concept.



About Ven J. Tesoro

writer, prison officer, artist
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